USS Pueblo's William Massie Seeks Retribution From N. Korea
Thursday, October 8, 2009
William Thomas Massie's nightmares almost always begin in a dusty prison cell. His arms are lashed behind his back, and North Korean guards are karate-chopping his neck, kicking his groin and ankles, and smashing his face with fists and rifle butts.
The frigid room is illuminated only by tannin-tinted light trickling through newspaper-covered windows. The guards are screaming. One thrusts an assault rifle into Massie's mouth. The soldier's finger is on the trigger. Sweat stings Massie's eyes. He is terrified.
When he wakes up, his body aches. Sometimes he sobs.
Those nightmares have pursued Massie for decades, vivid flashbacks of his "11 months of hell" in a brutal North Korean prison after he and 81 other members of the USS Pueblo were captured in 1968. Ever since, Massie and many of the other men have struggled with torture's legacy.
Coping hasn't been easy for the Pueblo's crew. Marriages imploded. At least two men committed suicide. Many have seen therapists and still take medication for stress and depression.
Massie, a thick 61-year-old with gray hair and a gray goatee who likes wearing all-black clothing, has seen countless doctors and therapists for severe back pain, impotence, incontinence and depression, all the result of torture.
On the advice of a counselor who thought he needed a calming influence at home, he even took in a lovable yellow Labrador named Bruno. But while the experts he has seen have helped ease Massie's lingering anger, pain and fear, they haven't delivered what he has truly craved: vengeance and vindication.
For that, he turned to the law.
Massie, two other Pueblo crew members and the widow of their captain sued North Korea for their torment. A federal judge in the District awarded them $65 million in damages last year. Their lawyers are trying to locate North Korean assets frozen by the U.S. government that they can seize.
No one knows whether they will be successful, and even Massie admits that the money might prove shallow solace. He knows that cash can't turn back the clock to 1967 or erase his physical pain. But that was never the real point.