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.
The suit and the hunt for cash, he says, aren't about getting rich or curing his ills. It's about punishing the North Koreans and fighting back.
It's about no longer being the terrified guy in his dreams.
Massie was an 18-year-old looking to escape life in rural Illinois in 1966 when he enlisted in the Navy, hoping to sail on nuclear submarines, see the world and serve his country. By 1967, he had been assigned to the USS Pueblo, a World War II-era cargo ship that the Navy had retrofitted to conduct "oceanographic research."
Reporting to the San Diego naval base, Massie walked past four or five hulking warships before finally spotting the Pueblo, a tiny vessel that was just 177 feet long and 32 feet wide.
The ship had huge antennae, large domes and direction finders, all signs that Massie wasn't going on a research expedition. The Pueblo was actually a top-secret spy ship.
In January 1968, Massie and 82 others, including Capt. Lloyd "Pete" Bucher, steamed into the Sea of Japan on the Pueblo's first mission: to gather electronic intelligence while stationed off the coast of the Soviet Union and North Korea. The ship was lightly armed with two large machine guns. The United States, at the time, was deep into the Cold War and fighting in Vietnam. It hadn't been at war with North Korea in 15 years.
Twelve days into an otherwise dreary cruise, the Pueblo was steaming in international waters about 15 miles off the North Korean coast, according to U.S. military records.
Suddenly, North Korean gunboats appeared and began to circle the U.S. ship. North Korean jets streaked through the sky. Soon, the gunboats started shooting. As Massie and other crew members began setting fire to piles of classified documents, a shell exploded in a passageway. Massie's ears clanged. His dungarees were coated with blood and flesh from crewmate Duane Hodges, who died from his injuries.
Outgunned and outmaneuvered, Bucher surrendered.
After landing in North Korea, the Pueblo's sailors were thrown into an improvised prison of dim, dusty rooms. Massie was dragged into a room to be interrogated. One guard spoke broken English. He demanded that Massie admit that the Pueblo was spying on North Korea in its territorial waters. Massie refused.
A guard hit him so hard that Massie saw a bright flash and blacked out. Another kicked him repeatedly in the groin. Others pummeled his neck. The beating didn't stop until Massie was carried away. On a later trip to the bathroom, Massie spotted Bucher standing by a sink. The captain appeared to be in a trance, his face a purplish mass.