Mar 28, 2007
Parents talk about lost Marine son
Iraq veteran haunted by war


PAXTON— Joyce and Kevin Lucey worried every day while their son, U.S. Marine Corps Reservist Jeffrey M. Lucey, was serving in Iraq.

He had enlisted in the Marines in 1999 when he was 18 years old. His unit was eventually activated and sent to Iraq.

Mrs. Lucey coped by drawing on the support of close friends and family and by watching television news constantly, sometimes scanning three stations at a time. News that a U.S. Marine had been wounded or killed started the 12-hour fright clock, too familiar to military families. She listened and watched the driveway to see if someone from the military was coming to her door to notify her within their usual time frame.

If 12 hours passed without seeing an officer approaching her house, hearing steps or a knock on the door, she knew her son was safe.

Mr. Lucey coped differently.

Formerly a news hound, he avoided watching it, choosing instead to escape into movies that allowed his mind to wander, ever so briefly, away from the realities of war.

The Luceys told their story yesterday at “Military Families: Healing the Wounds of War” at the Fifth Annual Social Work Conference held yesterday at Anna Maria College.

In July 2003, Cpl. Jeffrey M. Lucey returned home from the war. He was 23 years old.

“We were overjoyed when he returned to us physically unharmed,” Mrs. Lucey recalled yesterday, saying her son seemed well.

While the Luceys were concerned with some of the things their son had written to them, and some of what he said after returning home, they had no idea of the horror he was experiencing.

Had they realized the severity, the Luceys told an audience of social workers and students, they would have sought more help for their son, and sought it sooner.

The Luceys described a son who was trying to adjust to civilian life but was haunted by what he had done and what he had seen while carrying out his duties as a Marine in Iraq.

For Cpl. Lucey of Belchertown, the experience was solitary. He knew that no one except another soldier could relate to his experiences, but, his mother said, he did not want the other Marines in his unit to know he was having a hard time. He did not want them to think he was weak.

During the 11 months he was home, he started vomiting daily, a physical problem Mrs. Lucey said she later learned can be a symptom of post traumatic stress disorder.

He returned to college but felt trapped in the classrooms and felt like everyone was staring at him.

“He knew that wasn’t realistic,” Mrs. Lucey said. She and Mr. Lucey sought medical assistance and their son was given prescriptions to help him cope. Still, they said, he was deeply sad and troubled.

He tried escaping into alcohol. “He told me the only way he could sleep was to drink,” said Mrs. Lucey.

Her son got worse, reclusive, unable to function day-to-day.

“I cannot tell you how hard it was to see him fall apart that way,” she said.

The Luceys took their son to a Veterans Administration hospital, where, they said, he spent a lot of time in a room, feeling like a prisoner.

Knowing what to say, and what not to say, he got himself released.

During the next long weeks, he disintegrated. Eventually, the Luceys learned of a veterans center where veterans talk one-on-one. Finally, Mrs. Lucey said yesterday, there was a place where her son could talk to someone who would understand.

He got on a list for a bed.

But his life ended days before he was he was notified of an available bed.

When Mr. Lucey arrived home from work the evening of June 22, 2004, he looked through the house for his son. He saw that the dog tags his son never took off were lying on his bed. The chain, his father said, also held the dog tags of two Iraqis his son knew he had killed, and whom he mourned.

Before he found his son, Mr. Lucey said, he saw photographs of family and his son’s military unit laid out. And then, from the corner of his eye, he saw his son. “I thought he was standing there at first,” he said.

Then, Mr. Lucey said, he saw a double loop of hose around his son’s neck and realized he had hanged himself. He called the police and then went back to his son, laid his head on a pillow and stayed with him until police arrived.

Later, the Luceys found a letter that said: “It’s 4:35 p.m. and I’ve nearly completed my death.”

“That’s my son’s story,” Mr. Lucey told a silent audience.

He was 24 years old.

Mrs. Lucey said after the conference that she and her husband share their experience and loss in hopes that their story will help other parents see the signs of distress before they did, and get help for their children.