Saturday, July 31, 2004

Soldiers tell stories about Iraq..."We shot a man with his hands up,"he said,"We even shot women and children."


NORTHAMPTON - When his turn came to speak at the community dialogue on the Iraq War, Staff Sgt. Jimmy Massey of the United States Marines Corps chewed his gum slowly and slowly scanned the 150 people in the audience.

What he was about to say required deliberation.

"We shot a man with his hands up," he said, "We even shot women and children."

Massey was one of three Iraq War veterans to speak yesterday at a forum sponsored by the Veterans Education Project and the American Friends Service Committee.

The event, held at the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Michael Curtin Post, in the Florence neighborhood, offered the audience and opportunity to hear first-hand experiences of veterans who hold varying opinions on the war in Iraq.

Air Force Reserve Tech. Sgt. Pablo Rodriguez, a Northampton police officer, and Army National Guard Sgt. Richard Riley of Amherst, spoke about their experiences in Iraq.

Both Rodriguez and Riley said they were proud to serve in Iraq, and if called they would go back.

"I'm glad I had an opportunity to serve," said Rodriguez, who did security details at the Baghdad Airport.

Riley, who served with the Guard's 180th Engineering Detachment, built bridges as well as housing and other facilities for GIs in Iraq and Kuwait.

Massey told the audience of his disillusionment with the war. The only one of the three to engage in combat, the 12-year veteran from North Carolina said he was fully prepared to kill or be killed. But that was before the war.

Today he said he takes five different anti-depressant and anti-anxiety pills to help him deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Firing on civilians and securing oil fields was not the duty he signed up for, he said.

"Why are Marines learning to shut down oil wells - are we the Environmental Protection Agency now?" he asked as he told the audience of his realization that this war was not one he agreed with.

He started asking questions and was reassigned to combat duty.

"I'm in the desert, I'm gung-ho, ready to kill," he said, putting "your tax dollars to work. Unfortunately, your tax dollars went into a lot of civilians. I was there. I pulled the trigger.

"My main purpose in life, for 12 years, was to meet the enemy on the battlefield and destroy him," he said. "When I left to go to Iraq I didn't care whether or not I died. If you die in combat, that's an honor."

There were days when he thought to himself, "Today is a good day to die," said Massey, who received an honorable discharge.

But earlier in the evening, as people streamed into the hall and the sun lit up his face he realized yet again, "I'm glad to be in the sun."

-First published in The Republican on July 26, 2004
The author is available at



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