October 12, 2003, Jonestown Remembered at Tripod, The Ghosts of November, by Jeff Brailey,
My name is Jeff Brailey. I am a retired US Army master sergeant, freelance writer and published author. On this site you will find the true story of what happened in Jonestown, Guyana the week after the tragic massacre of 914 Americans there on November 18, 1978.
I attempted to have this series published in a newspaper, however, after sending it to several newspapers around the country, was unable to find one interested in it. So I have published it on this website and after you read it, I would appreciate any feedback you may want to provide.
But first, let me tell you a little about myself. I am 55-years-old and am presently residing in Indianapolis, Indiana. I am from Connecticut, however, I have not resided there since I joined the Army in 1968. Upon retirement from the service, I took up residence in San Antonio, Texas and consider that city my home.
In the years subsequent to leaving the military, I worked as a safety officer/medic on offshore drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and offshore construction barges in the Persian Gulf and off the coast of Nigeria, West Africa. Other vocations I have tried include: child protective services specialist, evidence photographer, chief operating officer, director of marketing, advertising copy writer, a reader/scorer of scholastic tests, hotel parking valet, and day laborer.
I am a person with Parkinson's Disease and currently am unable to maintain employment due to my condition. However, I do have several writing projects I am involved in. What you will read on this website is my latest. It is a four-part series of articles I wrote to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre.
While I cannot ask you to enjoy what you are about to read, I do hope it is enlightening. Please contact me if you have any questions or comments about this website.
October 12, 2003
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"I don't want to go down there."
Part 1 of a 4 Part Series
By Jeff Brailey
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Jonestown was a ghost town when I arrived there 25 years ago this November 20. The ghosts were very young then and I didnt notice them. Their mortal bodies still lay where they had fallen after ingesting a cyanide-laced fruit drink two days earlier.
The remains of the 914 Americans who perished in that cult enclave on November 18, 1978 could not be ignored. Their malodorous bloated bodies were all around and under the pavilion from which Reverend Jim Jones exhorted his fragile followers to commit revolutionary suicide.
I flew into Jonestown in a bright orange Guyanese Defense Force helicopter. The 15-minute flight from Matthews Ridge, where the medical aid station I was in charge of was still being set up, was flown through a dense cloudbank.
When we began our decent over Jonestown, the chopper broke through the clouds at about 1000 feet. I looked down into the village of colorfully painted cottages, trying to discern the mass of bodies I had been told were down there.
What I saw from that high altitude looked like a landfill. The remains of the members of Jones Peoples Temple were piled atop one another and all I could make out were the colors of their clothing.
I asked the Guyanese pilot where the bodies were and he replied, "Right below us mate."
"Take us lower and hover," I requested.
He spiraled his bird down to about 150 feet and I was shocked to discover what I had thought were piles of trash in a landfill were actually hundreds of grotesquely bloated corpses. Their bodies were so full of gases that the normally loose clothing they were wearing was tight against their ballooning flesh, so tight it didnt even flutter in the helicopters rotor wash.
The scene seemed to be out of one of Steven Kings most macabre horror films, but it was real.
"I dont want to go down there," I automatically said to no one in particular.
We landed in an open field where the dead residents of Jonestown once played soccer. A Guyanese Defense Force lieutenant met me as I disembarked from the relative
comfort of the familiar Bell helicopter. A God-awful stench caused me to wretch as I saluted the officer.
He told me his name was "Left-ten-unt" Godwin. His platoon had been guarding Jonestown and its dead since early Sunday morning, about 30 hours.
The tired officer had a vacant look in his eyes, not unlike that seen in soldiers suffering from the fatigue of battle. After Lieutenant Godwin returned my salute he told me he would take me on a tour of Jonestown.
It was actually the last thing I wanted to do. However, the American soldiers who would be coming to process the remains had not yet left Guyanas capitol. I had nothing but time. As grossly distasteful as the tour would be, an event of historical proportions had taken place and as one of the first Americans to witness it, I felt a responsibility to do so.
The first place Lieutenant Godwin took me was to a bright blue, well-built cottage. Inside lay half dozen corpses.
"These are the bodies of Guyanese citizens," he told me, "I wanted you to see them first so you would know it wasnt only Americans who died here."
The dead Guyanese included men, women and adolescents. They appeared to be members of the same family. They had been killed by shotgun blasts.
Our next stop was Jim Jones cottage. His body was laying on the three steps that led to his front door. Some unknown person moved him there from where he had been shot, about 12 feet away.
Jones arms were raised to the sky. His black eyes were open and he looked as if he was talking to the God whose existence he denied.
Reverend Jones had one bullet wound to the temple. At the time, the U.S. government claimed he had committed suicide. I saw no evidence of powder marks around his wound.
In fact, investigators who have studied what happened in Jonestown 25 years ago believe Jones was killed by a member of his flock and are fairly sure they know who did it.
One of those investigators is Jim Houghan. In 1998, I went to New York City to tape an interview for the
documentary he was producing for the Arts & Entertainment. Jonestown: Mystery of a Massacre debuted in November 1998.
During the course of his research for the documentary, Houghan interviewed a survivor named Odell Rhodes. It was through Mr. Rhodes account of the final moments of the mass killings that it becomes apparent Jones did not take his own life.
Rhodes had been hiding under a cottage near the infirmary as his fellow Jonestown residents were dying. He reported to Houghan that after an hour to an hour-and-a-half of wailing and commotion during which Jones could be heard commanding his flock to kill their children and themselves, the village became, pardon the pun, deathly quiet.
He started to leave his hiding place when a gunshot broke the unnatural silence. Rhodes quickly returned to his hide away and heard a series of four more quickly fired gunshots. A couple of minutes later, the muffled report of another single gunshot was heard.
Several minutes later, Rhodes left the safety of his hiding place and slowly walked toward where the shots came from. When he arrived at Jones cottage, he found the maniacal cult leader laying on the ground in front of it, a gunshot wound to his head. There was no weapon near the body.
Rhodes walked into Jones home and found registered nurse, Ann Moore, laying on the floor, dead of a gunshot to her mouth. A 38 caliber pistol was next to her body.
It is theorized that Jones implored Ann Moore to kill him with his gun because he had seen what a horrible death cyanide caused.
Ann Moore loved Jim Jones and would do anything he asked. After she shot him, it is believed she was so distraught she fired the pistol four times into the air, went into Jim Jones house where she drank the cyanide potion and then put the barrel of the pistol in her mouth and pulled the trigger. During autopsy, unmetabolized cyanide was found in Ann Moores body.
Of course, I didn't know this in 1978. I did see Ann Moores body and that of another women dead on Jones bed. She had been shot in the chest.
What I did not see during that tour of Jonestown were any dead children except the corpse of Kimo, the son of Ann Moores sister Carolyn Layton and Jim Jones. He was in Jones house.
What I was not aware of that first day in Jonestown, but was learned during the course of our gruesome mission was that the area around the pavilion was slightly concave.
The first residents of Jonestown forced to ingest the deadly cyanide mix were the infants and toddlers. Hundreds of needle-less syringes that had been used to force the poison into their little mouths lay scattered on the ground.
After the babies had been fed the poison, they were laid nearby, at the bottom of the concave area. Older siblings and children were placed on top of them followed by teens, mothers, senior citizens and the able-bodied members of the community.
When the scene was first surveyed, we didn't know the dead were actually piled in layers around the pavilion. We thought there were about 400 victims. By day 6 it became obvious that estimate was tragically low.
Every living thing in Jonestown was dead except for the pigs in the pig farm a mile from the residences and two blue and gold macaws who we found sitting silently on their perches. The dogs had been shot as had Mr. Muggs, an old chimpanzee that had been used to terrorize the children when they needed to be punished.
My first day in Jonestown was the most memorable day of my life. It is one I will never forget because the ghosts will not let me.
You see, the young ghosts I did not notice 25 years ago became restless on the anniversaries of their death and visited me each November for several years.
They used to trouble me greatly, invading my sleep, causing me to have mood swings and uncharacteristic behavior every November. I even could literally smell them.
But they don't bother me any longer. If they still return each November, I do not notice them.
Word Count: 1450
"Wait Until They Open This One in Dover."
Part 2 of a 4 Part Series
By Jeff Brailey
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
There were more than 200 soldiers sent from the 193rd Infantry Brigade in Panama to be part of the Joint Humanitarian Task Force sent to Guyana to recover the remains of 914 members of the Peoples Temple who lost their lives in Jonestown on November 18, 1978. I was one of them.
Our group consisted of eight medics and two medical records specialists from the 601st Medical Company along with our commander and the brigade surgeon. Part of a Special Forces A team from Fort Gulick, infantrymen from Fort Kobe and some fuel specialists and other logistical support personnel rounded out our contingent.
Other soldiers came from Fort Bragg, North Carolina and Fort Lee, Virginia. They were from the medical, infantry and graves registration specialties.
Every service in the U.S. Armed Forces participated in the mission. They included Air Force flight crews and communications specialists, transportation and other support personnel. The US Navy also provided aircraft.
By far, the most unorthodox unit of soldiers in the task force was the graves registration team [Note: In the 1980s the name of this military occupational specialty was changed to mortuary specialist.] These soldiers have the gruesome task of identifying and processing the dead during wartime. Needless to say, they are all volunteers.
My first experience with these unique men and women was on November 20, 1978 in Jonestown. They had just arrived and were unloading their supplies and equipment. Watching them work, they appeared normal enough. Looks can be deceiving, however.
Although the Guyanese Defense Force troops who had been providing security for two days had been instructed to keep all unofficial visitors, especially the media, outside of Jonestown, a network news team from the United States had somehow breached their checkpoint.
I noticed a lieutenant colonel from the U.S. Armys Southern Command having an animated conversation with the reporter. He did not seemed pleased with the news crews presence.
The aggressive news hound was persistent. In order to get him out of Jonestown as quickly as possible without being accused of censorship, the lieutenant colonel agreed to allow the journalist to interview one member of the team.
The relieved newsman chose one of two female members of the graves registration unit to do the on-camera interview. After instructing his photographer to set his camera in a position that would show soldiers in the background opening crates of body bags, he introduced himself to his young interviewee.
She was an attractive blonde of 18-years of age. She didnt appear a bit nervous, in fact, she seemed eager to be in the spotlight.
The Southcom public affairs lieutenant colonel was pleased with the reporters choice. After all, when this extremely cute female soldier appeared on the nightly news, it would probably entice young male viewers to consider a career in the Army.
As the news crew prepared to shoot the interview, the reporter spoke in a calming manner to the female soldier. He explained what kinds of questions he would ask and told her not to be nervous.
When the camera began rolling, the reporter looked into its lens and introduced himself. He went on to tell where he was and with whom he was speaking. Then he turned to the soldier and started to ask his first question.
"I imagine this is a very traumatic experience for you, an 18-year-old young woman from South Carolina," he began as the cameraman zoomed out to include the soldier in the scene.
Before the reporter could finish his sentence, the exuberant blonde grabbed his microphone and said, "Oh no sir, it ain't traumatic. I'm really looking forward to it. I didn't join the Army in time to go to the Canary Island disaster [graves registration soldiers had been sent to the Canary Islands a couple of years earlier to process the bodies of the victims of an airplane crash there] so this is the first chance I've had to work with real bodies."
The veteran television journalist was so flustered by the soldiers bubbly response, he couldn't think of a follow-up question. The public affairs officer appeared to be in shock, as he visualized his career taking a nose dive when this was aired on the nightly news.
Fortunately, the enthusiastic young graves registration specialists remarks were never heard outside of Jonestown. The world would just not have understood.
That energetic effervescent attitude was typical of all the men and women on the graves registration team. Their bizarre senses of humor left those unfamiliar with their job questioning the teams collective sanity.
One of the crew chiefs on the Jolly Green Giant helicopters shuttling bodies from Jonestown to the airport in Guyana's capitol of Georgetown, 350 miles away, was visibly nervous each time his chopper landed in that jungle enclave.
Noticing the young airmans discomfort, the graves registration soldiers put one of their living, breathing comrades in a body bag. When it was loaded on the hapless crew chiefs helicopter, the body bag began to move, slowly at first, then with increasing violence. When the crew chief saw what was happening, he jumped off the helicopter and it took a great deal of coaxing to get him back on it.
Another incident of dark humor occurred when Colonel William Gordon, the task force commander, was surveying Jonestown on the final day of the mission. Four perspiring graves registration troops had put Mr. Muggs, Jonestowns adult chimpanzee, into a body bag.
The old ape had been shot to death 11 days earlier and smelled much worse than the dead humans these soldiers had been processing for nine days.
As hard as they tried to make Mr. Muggs shoulders fit into the bag, they could not fully zip it shut. One soldier left for a moment and returned with a large machete.
As the graves registration trooper raised the huge blade, intending to hack off the chimps shoulders, Gordon intervened.
"Hold it men! What are you gonna do to the go-rilla?" he asked.
"Were putting it into a body bag, Colonel," they replied in unison.
"I can see that, but why?": Gordon inquired.
The soldier wielding the machete got a devilish grin on his face and looked up at the task force commander and said, "Wait until they open this one up in Dover, sir!"
The old senior soldier shook his head and announced, "I don't mind you playing a practical joke on them boys up at Dover Air Force Base [the military mortuary where all the remains were removed to], but I wont allow you to mutilate that poor old go-rilla."
Colonel Gordon told me they worked for another 45 minutes in the hot sun before they managed to zip Mr. Muggs body bag and ship him to Dover Air Force Base.
As gross and foreign as their behavior was to most normal people who viewed it, the graves registration soldiers performed their gruesome task with pride and professional acumen. They functioned flawlessly despite the rapidly deteriorating conditions of the bodies laying in that tropical heat.
They perform a very necessary but distasteful job that would have driven some people insane. Perhaps some of those who viewed their practical jokes and antics would say these men and women were indeed insane. I would not.
WORD COUNT: 1240
Part 3 in a 4 Part Series
By Jeff Brailey
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
My medical team had little to do during our nine day stay in Guyana. A special forces medic was on the team providing security in Jonestown. He handled the minor sick call type problems and never sent one soldier to our medical station at Matthews Ridge.
It was on our last day, while packing up our tents and equipment, that we had our first and only medical emergency. It was one of my own troops who was the victim.
Mike Sanborn was a hard charging combat medic. He was strong as an ox and always could be counted on to do the work of two men.
The morning was typically sweltering and humid. Mike was working without a shirt, despite being told twice to put one on.
Suddenly, he literally fell out from the heat. A couple of his comrades put Mike in the shade, loosened his clothing and called me over. He had all the symptoms of heat exhaustion, complicated by a severe heat rash over all of his trunk.
I started an IV of normal saline and had the two medics sponge Sanborn down with cool water. I was concerned that the heat rash would inhibit his bodys ability to cool itself, so I radioed headquarters in Georgetown and asked that a medical evacuation aircraft be dispatched to carry Mike to the medical clearing station there so he could be seen by a physician.
Before they verified the medivac was inbound to my location, a wavering voice came over the airwaves. He notified me he was Colonel So-And-So and he was in charge of the medical clearing station. His slurred speech told me he had been drinking more than coffee and it was not yet 10 AM.
The doctor asked the nature of my emergency and I gave him Sanborns symptoms and vital signs. Then I said, "He has heat exhaustion complicated by miliaria." Miliaria is the medical term for heat rash.
"He has what?" asked the inebriated doctor.
I responded, "Heat exhaustion with miliara, I spell phonetically: MIKE-INDIA-LIMA-INDIA-ALPHA-ROMEO-INDIA-ALPHA."
The tipsy physician then instructed me to start an IV of normal saline, keep him cool and evacuate him as soon as possible, a protocol I had already initiated.
Within 20 minutes, Sanborn and I were winging our way to Timheri Airport in an Army U21 fixed wing aircraft. The flight lasted less than half an hour. Medics waiting on the tarmac took my sick medic to their medical clearing station.
I noticed my commander, Captain Richard Skinner and the 193rd Infantry Brigade surgeon, Major Victor Burgos, standing near the old terminal building that task force headquarters was set up in. I walked over to them and inform them of Sanborns condition.
As we were talking, an Army physician with silver oak leafs on his collar came over and asked if I was the medic who brought the heat casualty in. I said I was and he said to me very condescendingly, "He doesnt have malaria, he has a heat rash." The drunk doctor was in no condition to carry on an intelligent conversation, so I simply said, "Yes sir, thank you, sir."
The doctor toddled back where he came from and Captain Skinner told me there was beer inside the terminal so I left the officers to go quench my thirst. Inside the huge building were stacked 144 cases of Banks beer, the national brew of Guyana, covered in chunks of ice.
As I was relaxing with a fairly cold beer, a jeep entered the terminal driven by an animated black major. He pulled up next to where I was standing and I saluted.
"Major Major," he said to me, offering his hand.
"Specialist Brailey," I responded, shaking it.
"Aint seen you here before," he said, grabbing a cold Banks.
"No sir, Ive been forward," I replied.
"Yes, sir. Part of the time."
"Then I guess dead bodies dont bother you," he said.
"Not anymore," I stated matter-of-factly.
"Great, hop in the jeep. The last helicopter-load of bodies is inbound and were gonna get ourselves on TV," said an excited Major Major.
I jumped into the moving jeep just as the officer began accelerating out of the terminal. We then sped directly to the flight line.
The remains evacuated from Jonestown during the final days of the mission were of the very young residents who had been killed first. The task force had run out of body bags and most of those being unloaded from this last helicopter contained two or three small bodies.
A line of soldiers formed to carry the remains from the chopper to waiting trucks. Most of them would hold the bags away from their bodies to keep the smelly body fluids from soiling their uniforms.
One young soldier, however, a teenager from Puerto Rico, was hugging the bags to his chest as he carried them from the helicopter to the trucks. It was as if each bag contained his own children. Tears flowed from his eyes and his lips seemed to be mouthing a silent prayer.
His unique style of carrying the body bags of these babies and the pathos that accompanied it, was not lost on a French news photographer who was walking backward in front of the soldier, snapping shot after shot of his grief-filled face.
Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a raging Major Major entered my peripheral vision. He had been watching the dance the photojournalist was performing with the traumatized young soldier and decided it was time to cut in.
Major Major was carrying a body bag that appeared to contain the remains of a large child or young teen. As he reached the photographer, the enraged officer slammed the body bag forcefully against his face. Body fluids splattered everywhere as the Frenchman and his camera fell to the hot tarmac.
With a look of uncontrolled rage in his eyes, Major Major put the body bag down, leaned over the offending photographer and whispered into the mans ear, "Aint you got no fucking sensitivity?"
Major Major fairly quickly regained his composure after that incident, and asked me if I wanted to see where his soldiers lived and worked.
"Your soldiers?" I questioned.
"Yes, Im in charge of the graves registration unit," he replied.
We climbed in the jeep and drove about 100 yards to a small hangar that had hundreds of aluminum coffins stacked outside of it. Every fly in Guyana was buzzing around the area.
Two noncommissioned officers and two lieutenatnts were sitting in a jeep covered with insect netting, eating C-rations. The stench was unbearable.
As Major Major greeted the men in the jeep, he noticed a young private-first-class sitting on a bench eating C-ration beans and franks from the can. Flies were walking all over his uniform, hands, neck and face and buzzing around his food.
Under the hungry soldiers bench was a full body bag. When Major Major noticed it, he said, "Smith, whats that body doing here?"
"Taking it home for a souvenir, sir," the young soldier said without skipping a beat.
"Smith, you get that body over where it belongs, right now!" Major Major sternly ordered.
The young graves registration soldier stopped eating his lunch, put the can on the bench, stood and dragged the body bag to where the rest of them were stored.
Upon returning, his beans and franks were crawling with flies. He simply knocked the can with a plastic spoon, causing the insect to take flight and resumed his meal.
At this point, I thanked Major Major for his tour and made my way back to the terminal where the beer was. I needed to experience the medicinal effect of an adult beverage. I was also hoping to find some semblance of sanity in this Twilight Zone I had been trapped in for nine days.
WORD COUNT: 1340
This article originally appeared in the 2003 edition of the Jonestown Report. You may view the entire publication on line at the link provided below.
The Jonestown Report
Part 4 of a 4 Part Series
By Jeff Brailey
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
There was a time when I did not believe in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Part of the reason for my skepticism may be that I was a professional soldier, and psychological disorders, particularly this one, were often considered career-enders.
I served two tours in Vietnam as a medic with the 85th Evacuation Hospital. I worked a minimum of 12 hours a day, seven days a week on the Recovery Room/Intensive Care Unit.
It was not pleasant duty. Day after interminable day, we treated American soldiers, airmen and marines with horrendous wounds of war, civilian women and children who had grotesque burns or missing limbs and enemy prisoners-of-war with wounds so severe, we often were barely able to put them back together again.
Every day represented a new and different assault on the psyche of medics serving on the line or in hospitals. I'd like to believe it was the innate compassion most medical personnel possess that allowed me to perform agonizing duties with professional acumen and the psychological detachment necessary to remain reasonably sane.
Despite these experiences, I did not exhibit any symptoms of PTSD when I returned to theU.S. after my tours in Vietnam. In fact, when I would hear or read about fellow soldiers or vets who acted out in an inappropriate manner, ostensibly because of the trauma they experienced during the war, I considered them frauds or weaklings who were probably psychologically flawed before entering the military. It wasn't until many years later that I recognized exactly how complicated and fragile the mind is.
In 1978, I was confronted by an event so disturbing and so massive in scope that it caused me psychological distress that continues to have an effect on my life to this day. I spent nine days in November of that year as senior medic of the Joint Humanitarian Task Force sent to Guyanato recover the remains of the victims of the Jonestown Massacre.
I was part of a contingent of about 200 men and women who were deployed from Panama to Guyana on November 20, two days after the deaths. The event that had occurred there happened in an extremely hot tropical climate that caused all sorts of complications for body retrieval, identification, and removal. We also worked under incredible time constraints, since the conditions that hastened body decomposition served to create a very real physical health hazard for our team. Beyond that, the mental strain was almost overwhelming.
To this day, 25 years later, after being afflicted with Parkinson's Disease, after going in and out of states of homelessness for the past five years, after two divorces, and after fighting a powerful gambling addiction, I still consider the nine days spent in Guyana as the worst period of my life.
Yet, immediately after it was over and I returned to my duty station in the Panama Canal, my life seemed to return to normal. For a year, I rarely talked about or even thought about the Jonestown Massacre and my connection to it.
However, as ordinary as my life was during the weeks and months subsequent to this unprecedented military mission, there was a tiny seed of trouble hidden deep within my psyche waiting to emerge and disturb my conscious life. It happened very suddenly and dramatically.
That bad seed began to sprout almost exactly a year of my journey to and from the hell that was Jonestown. It was a Sunday in November 1979. I was walking past the bakery in Balboa,Panama on a peaceful pleasant morning. Delectable aromas were wafting from the open door of the shop, enticing customers to come in and buy the sweet breads and pastries it was famous for. But my olfactory nerves interpreted the odor as being the sickeningly sweet smell created by 914 bodies rotting in the tropical heat. I immediately vomited on the sidewalk.
Embarrassed by this reaction I had no control over, I dashed to my car and quickly returned home. Although not consciously aware of any changes to my normal behavior, I am told that for the next two weeks I was uncharacteristically moody and depressed. I cried for no apparent reason, argued with my spouse over petty and inconsequential grievances and treated my children with impatience and indifference.
My nights were marked by difficulty in falling to sleep and then abruptly waking up in a cold sweat after experiencing very realistic nightmares that resembled scenes from the classic horror film, Night of the Living Dead. It was as if the former residents of Jonestown were literally visiting me. Sleep was not a pleasant restful pastime during the next two weeks.
Just as suddenly as my bizarre behavior manifested itself, it disappeared. My wife and children who had spent a fortnight being cautious and tentative in dealing with me, slowly realized I was my old self again. Life was back to normal again until the following November when the symptoms returned for two weeks.
My family put up with these annual changes for five more Novembers until I finally achieved an epiphany provided by a very unlikely person at a very unusual location. My bowling team at Fort Sill, Oklahoma was participating in our weekly Tuesday night league game. It was my turn to bowl and I picked my ball up from the rack, approached the lane, released the ball and delivered a rare, for me, strike.
Rather than reacting joyously to this happy feat by shouting and issuing traditional high-fives to my teammates, I simply went back to my seat and sat down.
"Brailey, you don't bowl enough strikes that you should be that nonchalant," stated a member of my team who happened to be a psychologist. "What's the matter with you?"
"Nothing," I replied flatly.
Later, over pie and coffee with our spouses, the psychologist looked at me and said, "Do you feel all right? You look pretty depressed."
"I'm fine," I responded, not really realizing nothing could be further from the truth.
"No, he's not," said my Vietnamese wife. "He gets like this around Thanksgiving since he came back from Jonestown."
I am sure a 1000-watt halogen light bulb literally appeared over my head as I heard my wife's pronouncement and consciously recognized that I was indeed weird every November. My psychologist teammate told me to stop by his office the next morning.
He and I spent several hours that week discussing my behavior, its causes and means to control it. I came to learn I had a form of PTSD called "Anniversary Syndrome." It seems people affected by severe emotionally traumatic events are capable of suppressing them for most of the year, but when the date of the event looms annually, it triggers something within the brain that causes one to relive the terrible time.
After a relatively short period of informal therapy sessions, I succeeded in overcoming the bizarre behavior that plagued me for six Novembers. I was actually able to file my Jonestown experiences deep within the recesses of my brain and keep them from surfacing for the next 14 years.
I was a newlywed in February 1998. My second wife and I married on Valentine's Day. A couple of weeks later, we were sitting on our patio drinking coffee on a sunny Saturday morning. The portable phone rang and I answered with a cheery "Hello."
"Hello. My name is Jim Hougan. I am producing a documentary about Jonestown, and I'm looking for Jeff Brailey," a voice on the other end of the line said.
The hair on the nape of my neck stood up as I heard the word "Jonestown" for the first time in about a dozen years. "How did you find me?" I asked cautiously.
"Your name is on the list of soldiers who were on the Joint Humanitarian Task Force and I did an Internet search on your name and found your website. Are you the same Jeff Brailey?" Hougan asked.
I admitted it, and we spent the next 20 minutes chatting about my experiences in Guyana. I agreed to appear in the documentary, and Hougan said he'd come to San Antonio or send me an airline ticket to a city where he would tape the interview.
As I hung up the phone, my bride who had listened to my side of the conversation with wide-eyed curiosity, asked what I was talking about. I told her, "Jonestown."
"You were there?" she asked.
"Yes." I replied.
"IN THE CULT!?!?" she shouted.
"No, part of the cleanup," I said.
We spent the next few hours discussing the massacre and then went on to enjoy the remainder of our Saturday. That night, my wife shook me awake from a restless sleep. I asked why she had woken me up. "Because you were screaming in your sleep," she replied with a look of fear on her face.
"Uh oh, they're back," I said resignedly.
"Who's back," she asked.
"The ghosts," said I.
I went on to explain the Anniversary Syndrome that had bothered me years before. But this was February, not November, and I was a little rattled by it.
It was that very night The Ghosts of November: Memoirs of an Outsider Who Witnessed the Carnage at Jonestown, Guyana was conceived. It was my wife's idea that if I wrote about it, the ghosts would go away. I wrote the book in four months. It was published and released by J&J Publishers on October 31, 1998.
Writing the account of my nine days in Guyana, appearing on radio talk and television news shows, speaking at book signings and to civic groups, all were cathartic experiences that seem to have exorcised my ghosts for the time being.
Anniversary Syndrome is not the only ill-effect that Jonestown had on my life. Although I was brought up in the church and attended a Christian college, my spiritual life has never been the same. I still consider myself a Christian, but I am a very cynical nontrusting one.
While I still have a belief in God, my faith has been shattered. I will not trust His self-appointed representatives. It was not long after Jonestown that Jim and Tammy Bakker's sins against their flock were exposed, that Jimmy Swaggart tearfully confessed his infidelities, that Oral Roberts conned thousands of his followers into sending him millions of dollars so God would not "take him home," and that Robert Tilton was caught bilking gullible elderly Christians living on fixed incomes out of their money.
I began equating the antics of God's conmen with the evil deeds of Jim Jones that culminated in the taking of 914 lives in Jonestown. In my mind, most television evangelists are no better than he was, and the only thing that separates them from him is the fact that they have not become homicidal maniacs yet.
Jonestown represents the impetus of my self-exile from organized religion, and phony television evangelists continue to provide me with plenty of reasons to continue to eschew the church.
Benny Hinn gives me the creeps, especially since I know he is a charlatan and fraud, yet the faithful continue to flock to and contribute to his dog-and-pony healing shows. Trinity Broadcasting and its boss, holy roller Paul Crouch, remind me of the power and charisma which Jim Jones used to control people. There are many more greedy and corrupt ministers using the media to make themselves rich.
Jonestown has alienated me from God. I suppose you could say this is evidence that far from being the God he claimed to be, Jones was actually Satan's servant.
At one time I believed that no matter how bad something turned out, there was always something to learn from every human experience, that some good would come from it, no matter how seemingly devastating the immediate outcome of it was. When I look back at the nine days I spent in Jonestown and the monumentally evil deeds that caused me to go there, I can honestly say I find no redeeming value in that experience.
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