Iraq veteran talks of transformation

Civilian deaths changed Marine

Jimmy Massey still has the tattoos marking his commitment to the U.S. Marine Corps. And the Latin phrases for honor, courage and faithfulness ingrained in every recruit still flow mellifluously off his tongue with a Southern drawl.

But to hear the former Marine recruiter speak now, two years removed from the front lines in Iraq, it's easy to mistake him for a peacenik who always opposed the war.

"The purpose of war is to gain money, and who do you think benefits from war? Corporations," he told about 100 students at the Roberto Clemente Student Development Center in Ypsilanti earlier this week.

The talk was among several Massey will make locally by the end of his five-day stay in Ann Arbor to share his experience and raise money for his organization, Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Its 150 members nationwide advocate for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, and share their evocative war stories at schools, universities and community gatherings.

The 33-year-old Texas native is shunned by his former comrades and veterans. Former supporters and families that welcomed him into homes for three years as a recruiter where he currently lives in Waynesville, N.C., call him a modern-day Benedict Arnold.

Ironically, Massey said, the same qualities he obtained while in the Marines now drive him to speak out against the military and how it's conducted the Iraq war, particularly in regards to civilians.

He said his transformation began in the spring of 2003 when a red Kia sped toward his unit's checkpoint near Baghdad Stadium, ignoring warning signals. The Marines opened fire, killing three of the four occupants, all civilians.

More and more civilian deaths occurred similarly as they and soldiers received conflicting messages from the military, Massey said. He was told to consider any Iraqi a possible insurgent and civilians were told to go about their daily business and not fear coalition troops. It was a lethal mix, he recalls, culminating in the deaths of more than 30 civilians in one 48-hour span.

"I lost it," Massey said. "It got so bad that every time I laid my head on my pillow I thought of the faces of the people we killed."

Once in Iraq, Massey admits he was off the anti-depressants he took while working as a recruiter. Those medications now keep him grounded and focused, he says, along with therapy and his new wife, Jackie, who travels with him.

In 2003, after a 12-year career, Massey was honorably discharged with an 80 percent disability for post traumatic stress disorder and major depression. It's ammunition his detractors use to cloud his message about the war and civilian deaths, but a reality all the same, he said.

Local recruiters for the U.S. Marines and U.S. Army declined to comment for this story, but their superiors said they doubt Massey's message will resonate locally.

Ypsilanti and Howell have been fruitful recruiting grounds in recent years, said Master Sgt. Mike Giannetti, spokesman for the U.S. Marine Corps Recruiting Office in Troy.

In 2004, the Marines' Ypsilanti recruiting station, physically based in Pittsfield Township, enlisted more than the 10 other stations in a recruiting region spanning from Port Huron to Howell and into northern Ohio, Giannetti said.

The Ypsilanti and Howell stations have both ranked in the top 20 percent for the past five years, he said.

"People in those areas are very patriotic and most come from hard-working, blue-collar families with a history of military service and understand what we're about," Giannetti said.

Giannetti said he was not aware of Massey's visit to Michigan, though recruiters know his name and are familiar with, but indifferent to, his campaign.

"We can't worry about what everyone's saying. But that's what we fight for, to give someone the right to speak their mind," he said.

Massey, just ending a month-long jaunt that took him along the East Coast and to Minnesota, says he'll talk about the introspective shift the war brought about as long as people will listen.

Mohammed Thabateh, 14, of Ypsilanti, said he never considered joining the military and saw no sense in doing so regardless of his personal circumstances after hearing Massey's speech.

"In a bad situation you've got to do what you've got to do, but the military sends you out to kill, like a hit man," he said.

BY ART AISNER News Staff Reporter
© 2005 Ann Arbor News. Used with permission

Copyright 2005 Michigan Live. All Rights Reserved.

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