Jeffrey Lucey is not a name that will not soon be forgotten by the more than 100 people who attended a memorial service for him at Holyoke Community College (HCC) in Western Massachusetts. Lucey, a Marine veteran of the Iraq war and a student at the college, committed suicide on June 22. He was 23.
As his father Kevin said at the memorial, Jeff’s death, while not officially listed as such, is another casualty showing the human costs of the war. Lucey joined the Marine Reserves at 18 because, as his parents told Amy Goodman of the left-wing radio program Democracy Now! he wanted to get the training and earn money for college.
He was called to active duty with the 6th Motor Transport Battalion in early 2003. By February, he was in Kuwait. One day after he celebrated his 22nd birthday, the invasion of Iraq began. Trained as a clerical specialist, he was reassigned to serve as a driver.
On April 18, 2003, Jeff wrote to Julianne Proulx, his girlfriend since 1997, that he had done “immoral things.” On his return to his parents’ home in July, however, he had seemed normal, and everyone was too happy to see him to suspect that something was terribly wrong. With those who knew him less intimately, Jeff maintained the façade of the good Marine until the very end.
Things really began to fall apart on Christmas Eve. While drunk, Lucey took two handmade Iraqi dog tags from around his neck, threw them at his younger sister, and told her that he felt like a murderer.
He never did tell his family the whole story of his experience in Iraq, only bits and pieces. It was horrific enough. He spoke of elderly people killed as they tried to run from Marines rolling into Nasariya.
He spoke of a small Iraqi boy, bloody and prone in the dusty street, shot in the head and the chest and still holding a small, bloodstained American flag in his hands. He spoke of his horror as an American tank lumbered down the street, how he had bolted from his own vehicle and, as gunfire rippled the sand around him, moved the tiny corpse to the sad sanctuary of a nearby alley.
He spoke of how he had been ordered to shoot two Iraqi prisoners. He remembered how he had looked into their eyes and hesitated, watching as they shook in terror, and thinking of their families. He remembered that an officer had shouted, “Pull the fucking trigger, Lucey!” He remembered shooting the soldiers and watching them die. He told his father that there were “other things” he did not want the family to know about.
For its part, the Marines dismissed Lucey’s allegation that he had been ordered to shoot Iraqi prisoners as “without merit”–but didn’t offer an explanation of how that conclusion was reached. Marine spokesperson Capt. Pat Kerr, however, has confirmed that Lucey’s battalion was engaged in transporting prisoners of war, according to one press report.
As Jeff spiraled toward self-destruction, he began to drink more and more. In early June, his desperate parents were able to arrange an involuntary commitment to a local veterans’ hospital, where Lucey complained that he was treated like “a prisoner.”
He was diagnosed as suffering from depression with secondary alcohol dependency–and was released after four days because, the hospital said, he was not a danger to himself or others. On the ride home, he told his parents that he had met with psychiatrists twice, both times briefly, and on the second occasion, the psychiatrist had seem preoccupied with other matters.
In many respects, Jeff’s fate followed a trajectory that is becoming all too familiar. As Nancy Lessin of Military Families Speak Out told Amy Goodman, “We have heard so much about what this military has learned in Vietnam [about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder], and how they’re doing it differently now. And we don’t see that at all. We see the same mistakes happening–mistakes that are, in fact, not mistakes at all. It’s really a way of denying this issue so they can keep as many warm bodies deployed and re-deployed.”
After Jeff’s death, his parents learned from the medical records kept during his involuntary confinement that he had told nurses of three different plans to kill himself–a drug overdose, suffocation or hanging. On June 22, he chose the last of these three methods, hanging himself with a hose in the basement of his parents’ home.
His father found the body of his only son when he got home from work shortly before 7 p.m. In one of the notes Jeff left behind, he begged his parents not to blame themselves “because I lived a happy childhood and a great life thanks to you. Unfortunately, I am weak and cannot deal with the pain. It feels as if I lost the most important part of my life that will ever exist.”
While the memorial service was not intended as a political event, virtually none of the speakers were able to ignore the implications of the war in Iraq, which is leaving behind the equivalent of human cluster bomblets who will be imploding and exploding for years and decades to come.
Perhaps no one addressed the political context of Jeff Lucey’s death as eloquently as Sean Lamory, Jeff’s friend for the last 14 years, an Air Force veteran, an HCC student and one of the main organizers of the campus memorial service. Noting that the burdens of the war in Iraq are falling more than ever before on reservists and National Guard members, Lamory observed that such soldiers “are stereotypically young men and women who join the military for free college and benefits.
“I see it right here at HCC, a school where a lot of students struggle financially and come out of class to see a fancy Hummer, surrounded by Marines in full-dress uniforms making all sorts of promises.” Lamory also quoted a New Yorker article noting that the suicide rate “among soldiers in Iraq is one-third higher than the Army’s historical average.”
Perhaps, he speculated, the rate is so high because “there’s somewhere around 15,000 Iraqi civilians dead, and our troops are having trouble finding the justice in that.”
MARK CLINTON and TONY UDELL write for the Socialist Worker.