Vietnam vet lives life as an example to others

U.S. Marine Corps veteran William Mason of Prospect will be inducted into the Connecticut Veterans Hall of Fame in December. –LUKE MARSHALL

PROSPECT — William Mason has always tried to help members of the military. First while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, then during his career, and now as an example of fortitude and determination.

Next month, the Connecticut Veterans Hall of Fame will immortalize the 67-year-old Prospect resident by inducting him as a member of the class of 2018 during a ceremony Dec. 7 at 5 p.m. at the Legislative Office Building atrium in Hartford.

Following in the footsteps of two of his uncles, Mason joined the U.S. Marines when he was 17 years old and trained to be a mortarman. On his 18th birthday, Mason volunteered to go to Vietnam to fight in the Vietnam War.

Mason was assigned to the 3rd Battalion 7th Marine Regiment (3/7) Kilo Company. Although he was trained as a mortarman, Mason was assigned to the unit as a “grunt” or infantryman. A few days later, although he had no training in it, he was made the company’s radioman.

“I went from mortarman to grunt to radioman in 72 hours,” Mason said.

Mason had to quickly learn all of the codes and the phonetic alphabet the military used, and how to repair the radio if it broke.

“It was a crash course. Normally, it takes a trained radio operator at least two months of training. Out there, it is on the job. So, you don’t know what you are going to run into,” Mason said. “I was the communication for the squad. They relied on me. So, I had to make sure it was always operating well.”

Mason said his unit was stationed in the Quang Nam Province. On Sept. 11, 1969, at about 8 a.m. the unit came under enemy fire. Mason said he remembers the time because he had just done a radio check. During the battle, Mason was struck by a bullet in his right arm and lost the arm.

“I had taken artery hits in the upper arm. I had nothing left of my bicep or triceps,” said Mason, who had to be immediately evacuated from the battlefield due to his injuries.

Mason spent the next 25 months undergoing numerous operations at the West Haven Veteran’s Affairs Hospital.

Shortly after being discharged at the end of 1971, Mason headed off to Oregon.

“I ended up in Oregon because I wanted to get away from the West Haven VA. They kept after me about coming back in for more operations, and I just didn’t want to do that,” Mason said.

Mason spent two years in Oregon and sold insurance. Mason said he grew tired of that career and came back to Connecticut to follow his true passion: helping his fellow veterans.

Mason first took a job with the Connecticut Labor Department as a veteran’s aid.

“I knew I had a career path so I kept jumping around to various opportunities within the labor department. I trained myself how to write training programs,” Mason said.

Mason went on to take jobs with the labor department’s Workforce Incentive Program, which primarily helped unwed or divorced women with children find jobs, and, in 1984, he started working for the Soldiers, Sailors and Marines Fund, which is a collaboration between the state and the American Legion to help veterans in need.

He rose up the ranks at the Soldiers, Sailors and Marines Fund to become the assistant director in 1990 and the director of the organization in 1995. But, he started to struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder in 1999 and retired in 2002.

Mason said he barely left his house between 2002 and 2008 due to PTSD.

With therapy, Mason said he was able to overcome his PTSD and now tries to live as an example for others suffering with the disorder.

“I am still trying to help people in the best way I can. We help people by our own self illustration. By doing it ourselves. Let them see what we are doing. That’s all I am trying to do,” Mason said. “A lot of people will say to me ‘I’m disabled, I can’t do that.’ You don’t need to do it right away. Slow baby steps. Take one day at a time.”

Mason pointed to carpentry and landscaping work around his house, most of which he did himself, as examples of what he was able to do after he chose to seek help in 2008.

“I took it one day at a time. It took me about three months, and now I can’t stop. I have been going steady for 10 years. I have no intentions of stopping,” Mason said.

Mason said he was honored when he found out he’s going to be inducted into the Connecticut Veterans Hall of Fame.

“I am still surprised by it all. I am a little overwhelmed to tell you the truth,” Mason said.

“I have never done any of this for me,” he added. “I did it for the ones who didn’t come back with me. The ones who died on Sept. 11 of Kilo Company 3/7. I owe them a lot.”