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    This hurts. Another loss.

    War’s awful aftermath

    Michael Mason’s life ended in Seattle, but it was Afghanistan that injured his soul

    By Bob Welch
    Register-Guard columnist

    Published: January 29, 2013 12:00AM, Today

    Kevin Clark/The Register-Guard, 2011
    Michael Mason, who was paralyzed after he was shot by a Eugene police officer in December 2010, shares a moment with his mother, Donna, in 2011. Mason died Sunday from complications of his wounds.

    Michael Mason,
    a 29-year-old
    war veteran paralyzed in 2010 when he was shot by Eugene police after he’d opened fire with a handgun in the Valley River Center parking lot, died unexpectedly Sunday at the Seattle VA Medical Center.
    In essence, a bullet fired at him on Dec. 15, 2010, finally killed him, the King County medical examiner ruled.
    But you could argue that Michael Mason was more aptly a victim of war, which never went away for a young Springfield man who, say those who knew him, came back from Afghanistan a different man than when he left.
    “Our hearts are full of heartache, but one thing we know for sure: His soul, body and mind are finally set free,” said Sara Mason, who along with her sister, Raelynn Mason, enjoyed a close relationship with their brother.
    Officially, the cause of death was “intraparenchymal cerebral hemorrhage, due to recurrent secondary hypertension, due to autonomic dysreflexia, due to cervical spinal cord injury, all due to gunshot wound to neck,” according to the medical examiner.
    And the manner of death? “Homicide.” (That’s the killing of one human being by another, not to be confused with murder, which is the unlawful killing of another person with “malice aforethought.”)
    Technically, it was justifiable homicide, since Lane County District Attorney Alex Gardner ruled that Eugene police officers fired at someone considered an “active shooter.”
    Mason’s death closes a story that involved pain and more pain. Among the bitter ironies: a young man whose father was a Eugene police officer and who dreamed of being one himself was ultimately felled by Eugene police officers.
    “I know both the officers involved in the shooting and know they always conducted themselves in the highest sense of professionalism,” said Michael’s father, Tom Mason, a retired Eugene police sergeant, after his son’s death. “I hold no bitter feelings toward either of them.”
    Eugene Police Chief Pete Kerns said Monday that Michael Mason’s family can be “very proud of the life he lived both here in Lane County and in service to our country.”
    “Our hearts go out to the family and we wish them the best as they go through grieving their loss.”
    If Mason’s death came quietly in a U.S. veteran’s hospital, the prelude came with the deafening roar of an IED (improvised explosive device) in a caravan of Humvees in Afghanistan.
    It was Aug. 21, 2005. Mason — part of the 2nd Battalion of the Airborne 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Brigade — was not injured in the blast that killed four of his buddies and blew the legs off a fifth.
    But, psychologically, Mason was blown to bits. He was among those whose job it was to help collect what was left of his pals.
    Among the others helping was Sal Giunta, another member of the 503rd who would ultimately win the Medal of Honor, the U.S. Armed Forces’ highest decoration for valor, and write a book, “Living With Honor” (Simon & Schuster).
    “How do you put into words the feeling of walking around a scene like that, picking up pieces of American soldiers, people you have known by name?” Giunta wrote. “Men with wives and girlfriends; sons and daughters; mothers and fathers; people who care about them and love them, and now will never see them again. We did the job silently, stoically, swallowing back the revulsion and anger and nausea ... You shouldn’t have to pick up the pieces of your buddies.”
    Soon after that, Michael Mason sent home a “thank-you” video he’d made for his family that ended with the words: “I love you more than all the stars in the sky.”
    But family members said Michael was never the same. Back home, he spooked often. Couldn’t sleep. Angered easily.
    He was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.
    “In my experience it’s usually the more tenderhearted people that war effects most,” said Karen Spears Zacharias of Hermiston, author of “After the Flag Has Been Folded” (Harper Paperback).
    Michael shared the IED incident with his father while the two fished from a boat on Crescent Lake.
    “Nobody will ever know the totality of the scars something like that leaves on you,” Tom Mason said.
    But without doubt, he believes that that gruesome scene is what precipitated the Dec. 15, 2010, incident in which his son fired several shots in the Valley River parking lot with a 9mm handgun.
    “Michael wouldn’t harm anyone,” said Tom Mason. “He had a complete PTSD meltdown.”
    When police arrived, Michael Mason sped off in an SUV. After a chase by police into the Santa Clara area, he stopped and dropped the handgun outside the vehicle. But when he reached back into the vehicle several times, police fired three shots.
    One hit Mason’s spinal cord and caused paralysis, leaving him a quadriplegic.
    He lived in Springfield with his wife, Theresa, and had gone to Seattle in early January to have surgery for “bed sores.” He experienced some severe migraine headaches on Saturday and died the next day after experiencing a hemorrhaging of the brain, Sara Mason said.
    In his book, Giunta makes numerous references to Michael Mason, remembering him as a first-rate soldier who, when he last saw him — at Sal’s Medal of Honor ceremony in Washington, D.C., in November 2010 — was “happy and upbeat.”
    But seeing Guinta, also on body detail that day in 2005, brought it all back for Michael, says Tom Mason. “I think there’s a direct correlation between that event and what happened a few weeks later in Eugene,” he said.
    Wrote Guinta: “The truth is, not everyone comes back from war, and the wounds aren’t always visible.”
    “It’s kind of hard to put all this in perspective,” said Nate “Tommy” Thomas, who served with Michael Mason in Afghanistan, after learning of his friend’s death. “I was shocked to hear the news a couple of years ago and now I’m shocked again.”
    It’s hard for non-military people to understand what it’s like, he says.
    “It never leaves you, the war. This Vietnam vet was talking about how people would ask him, ‘When were you in Vietnam?’ And he would say, ‘Well, just last night.’ ”
    A service for Michael Mason is pending.
    Follow Welch on Twitter @bob_welch. He is at 541-338-2354 or
    “Our hearts are full of heartache, but one thing we know for sure: His soul, body and mind are finally set free.”
    — Sara Mason, Michael Mason’s sister

    I worked with a friend of his that I met on another site for veterans to get him into the VA system when this first happened. I am heartbroken that he would die of AD while in the VA hospital. I am just stunned by this tragedy.
    Anything worth doing, is worth doing to excess


    One of the proudest and most difficult duties I ever had was a stint on funeral detail while I was with the 82nd. Invariably, there was at least one family member that needed to talk to someone who understood what it meant to serve, and what it meant to come home. While I always spent as much time as they needed, and had the understanding of a combat vet with PTSD myself, it was only later that I truly understood. My Grandfather, a WWII vet, was buried in Arlington and I was chosen by the family to receive the flag. It was hard to see through my tears.

    Now, much more fragile in spirt and broken in body, one of my greatest fears is losing the ability to hope. I fear Michael had lost hope, had fallen into the pit that I can see. Some of my friends have fallen. I don't want to join them.

    Cleaning up a battle scene is not the worst I have encountered, but it haunts me. Even though those times were not my own comrades, they were still my brothers and sisters. I do dream of their faces. and worse - those that no longer had faces.

    May Michael now find the peace, hope, and joy that he had lost, that is my prayer. May his family remember his smiles and laughs more than his tears. May all of us rest our hands on his shoulder to steady ourselves when we find only darkness. He goes with my tears and a final salute, not for just his service, but for the fight he fought for so long to regain what he had lost. He was, is, and will forever remain a Soldier.
    Played with bombs- No SCI, Brain Damage enough that I require a chair and a caregiver.


      Awful all around. Poor guy.
      Roses are red. Tacos are enjoyable. Don't blame immigrants, because you're unemployable.

      T-11 Flaccid Paraplegic due to TM July 1985 @ age 12


        What is it good for?

        Say it again...

        This is heartbreaking. Heartbreak is common but goddam some are really awfull.

        Peace Out!
        Does This Wheelchair Make My Ass Look Fat?


          Very sad.


            Bethany, you have such a way with words. I couldn't agree more ! Unfortunatly we will see many more sad stories related to PTSD


              And rebajane is old enough to remember that GREAT song!

              Age is both a curse and a blessing. We've seen some shit. We will indeed see more.
              Does This Wheelchair Make My Ass Look Fat?