The Ghosts of November: Introduction

Sometimes it doesn’t pay to pick up the phone, but my new wife was on call and it had to be answered.

Ann, my new bride and I were enjoying a breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast with strawberry preserves, bacon and sausages, freshly squeezed orange juice for her and copious amounts of steaming hot coffee for me. I prepared it, of course, and it would have been breakfast in bed had the morning not been so beautiful.

The sun was shining and it was my second favorite time of the year in San Antonio: Winter, which is much more like Spring in New England, where I was born. We also lived in a rich old neighborhood, a guarded and gated community, one of the first in San Antonio. Many called it the original Dominion of the Alamo City, referring to by far the ritziest neighborhood in South Texas.

Wed in early February 1998, at a private ceremony at home, where we wore traditional African outfits, my bride and I usually ate at least one meal a day on our patio, weather permitting. The portable telephone was on the table. Ann owned a skilled home health agency and usually took call at least once a week.

The phone rang and I answered it on the second ring. An unfamiliar male voice came on the line.

“Hi, my name is Jim Hougan and I am trying to find Jeff Brailey,” a voice on the other end declared.

“Well, you found him,” I replied.

“The Jeff Brailey who was Jonestown, Guyana?” he asked.

I had not talked about my experiences in Jonestown in years. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. I wanted to hang up the phone. Catching my breath, I felt the past ten years of relative peace from the post-traumatic-stress-disorder that had plagued me almost annually since 1979 disappear.

“Yes, how did you find me,” I wanted to know.

“Your name is on the list of soldiers who were on the task force,” he replied.

Hougan and I spent 20 minutes on the phone. He asked a dozen questions about what I saw and did in Jonestown. At no time during the conversation did I mention the names ‘Jonestown’ or ‘Jim Jones,’ but I did graphically describe the horror I witnessed for nine days in November 1978. My new wife looked on with an incredulous look on her face.

By the time Jim and I finished talking, I agreed to participate in his documentary film project. He told me he would be in touch to discuss a time and place for me to be interviewed. Signing off, I put the telephone down, drank the dregs of my now cold coffee, sat back and sighed.

“What was that bizarre conversation all about?” my wife asked, her eyes as large as quarters.

“Some film producer asked me to appear in his documentary about Jonestown,” I answered.

“You were in the cult?” she cried out, a look of fear on her face.

“No, I was one of the soldiers sent to Guyana to recover and return the remains of the Americans who died in Jonestown,” I explained.

My bewildered new spouse shrugged her shoulders and asked why I never told her I was

there when we were dating. I told her that I felt Jonestown was not an appropriate topic of discussion while I was courting her. Besides, I thought I successfully put that small but extremely emotional traumatic event in my life behind me.

That night, we retired to bed as usual. Within a couple of hours, I was awakened by my wife’s vigorous shaking of my shoulder. I asked why she woke me up and she answered that I was screaming in my sleep like a banshee.

They’re back.” I stated quietly.

“Who are back?” she asked.

“The ghosts, the ghosts of Jonestown. They used to plague me every November. Now they re back and it’s only February,” I replied.

Fearing the return of the PTSD symptoms I told her had been under control for nearly 15 years, my wife suggested I write a book about my experiences with the Joint Humanitarian Task Forces. With that seed of an idea, The Ghosts of November was conceived and by October of 1998, the eve of the 20th anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre, the first edition of this book was published.

This second marriage was short-lived. I would like to think the Jonestown experience had nothing to do with my ability to remain in a healthy wholesome marital relationship, but I may be wrong.

Ann did everything she could to help me conform to her expectations, we traveled extensively, ate often at the best restaurants and made the social scene. She even financed the publishing of this book the first time I wrote it.

For a time, following Jonestown, I hated God. Then I came to disbelieve he even existed. Ann attempted to get me right again with the church, but after seeing the death and destruction wrought in the name of religion that Jim Jones orchestrated, I sincerely had nothing but hatred for the Christian God, no matter how many times they tried to explain how this loving, supposedly omnipotent being could not or would not intervene. This caused a big rift between

Ann, a hardshell Baptist and myself.

Eventually, my behavior became so obnoxious and unacceptable, she decided the only logical thing for her to do at time was divorce me. I really couldn’t argue with her logic. My second marriage lasted less than a year.

My first marriage, to a beautiful Vietnamese girl I met in 1970 while serving in Vietnam, lasted 24 years. We raised three daughters together, got them out of the house and on their own, then grew tired of each other and decided to expand our own horizons. She started seeing a boyfriend who was Vietnamese and younger than me. No skin off my nose, at least as far as I was concerned. But she went kind of bonkers when I started dating Ann, Oh well, as they say.

My first wife, Mai, was of simple peasant stock. She never went past the third grade in school for two main reasons – she was a girl and in her culture, girls had to work; and, she really didn’t care for school anyway. When I met Mai, she was the house girl for her “aunt and uncle” in Hue. With a petite and curvaceous body and skin as soft as a feather, she reminded me of a porcelain doll.

Mai spoke little English and my Vietnamese lexicon consisted of a few phrases and terms. Rather than making our relationship more tenuous, this lack of a common language cemented it. You see, her uncle, the electrician of the evacuation hospital I was assigned to in Phu Bai, 12 miles down Highway One from Hue, had tired of teaching me Vietnamese during my lunch hours and breaks. He pawned his house girl on me as tutor. I’m afraid Mai taught me Vietnamese better than I taught her English.

We had a wonderful eight years or so together. Married in 1971 and divorced in 1995, that unfortunately means we both made each other fairly miserable for 16 years. But that’s a story that will be told in another book.

My second wife was as different from my first as is humanly possible. While Mai was a simple country girl who never rode an elevator until I met her, Ann was an articulate, intelligent, tall and sophisticated black woman. We met in 1996. She was seeking someone to assist her with her business and after we met, I was seeking a more intimate relationship with her.

Ann owned a few businesses, a home health agency and a women’s health boutique and clinic in San Antonio, and a adult assisted living home in Little Rock. She also received a quarterly check from the remaining partners in her dead husband’s medical clinic in New York City. That business alone would have kept her financially comfortable, however, Ann was very ambitious and knew how to make money. In fact, it was almost a hobby of hers.

Bankrolled by my second wife and written originally as an act of catharsis, another major reason this project became important to me was the realization that a whole generation of young people have never heard of the People’s Temple, Jim Jones, or the massacre. This became apparent when three college students who attended a talk I was giving at a book store asked if it was a true story.

The act of ritual murder/suicide in which 914 Americans took their lives in a jungle enclave called Jonestown, Guyana on November 18, 1978, represented the largest such event in modern times. It has been compared in scope to the mass suicides of fanatical Jews on Masada in Israel some two thousand years earlier.[1]

Many cult experts felt the Jonestown Massacre, as it came to be known, was a precursor to similar ritual suicides that would occur leading up to the new millennium. We do know there were a few groups that committed mass suicide subsequent to this tragedy, and there also were some ritualistic mass murders in Africa that exceeded the number killed in Jonestown by some four-fold.[2]

There continues to be a great deal of interest in the Jonestown Massacre almost 30 years later. With all that in mind and considering first edition copies of this book are in great demand, I decided to write a revised edition.

Although the basic facts of the book remain the same, there are a few major theories and discoveries that have been uncovered. As far as I know, I continue to be the only member of the Joint Humanitarian Task Force sent to Guyana to remove the bodies of the American members of the People’s Temple killed there who has written about it. This book then, represents the only account of event that occurred in Jonestown during the nine days following the massacre.

Although the names of some of the soldiers have been changed, the events reported in this book all occurred as stated. The reader must remember that when I first wrote The Ghosts of November, I was relying on 20 year old memories that had been repressed in the recesses of my mind as a defense mechanism to protect myself from the trauma I witnessed.

My original purpose in writing this book was as a cathartic exercise. I experienced a form of post-traumatic-stress-disorder known as “anniversary syndrome” for several years following my participation in the Joint Humanitarian Task Force. The nightmares that would herald the return of this annual November event began prematurely one February night in 1998 after I had discussed participating in a documentary project.[3]

This is a true story that must be told so our children and theirs understand that such evil does exist in the world. For like the words of Jorge Santayana that hung over Reverend Jim Jones’ throne in the pavilion in Jonestown, I agree, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.”

In this revision of the book that was originally published in 1998, I have used the true names of most of the characters. The one exception is Lieutenant Canasta, whose identity is kept secret for reasons that will be obvious to the reader. With that exception, every word of this story is true.

Jeffrey Brailey
Indianapolis, Indiana
November 18, 2006

Notes:

[1] Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, XVIII, 55-59, in H. St. J. Thackeray, trans. Josephus, 9 vols. (Cambridge, MA, 1968), IX:45

[2] Internet Crime Archives, Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments, Retrieved June 21, 2004 from http://www.mayhem.net/Crime/uganda.html

[3] Arts & Entertainment, Jonestown: Mystery of a Massacre (Investigative Reports), Saturday, November 14, 1998, 3:00 to 4:00 PM, ES

Originally posted on January 22nd, 2015.

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