BY MARY GARRISON
West Point resident Joe Mason was just 20 years old when his life ended in the crystalline waters of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Now, some 45 years later, his friends, classmates and family are seeking to honor his memory.
Residents congregated Tuesday morning in the upstairs board room of West Point City Hall to hold a special memorial flag ceremony in Mason’s name. Loved ones gathered from as far away as Pearl and Chicago to view and participate in the event, presenting a U.S. flag to his mother, Catherine Mason-Oswalt. It was a ceremony of special meaning, according to West Point Mayor Robbie Robinson.
“I knew Joe well,” Robinson said. “We graduated together in 1966. It’s important because of the relationship we had growing up in West Point, but it’s more important to honor those where honor is due, and those are our veterans. … He answered the call of duty and gave the ultimate sacrifice. He gave his life.”
Mason, a seaman aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, was among 27 men killed in a training exercise on Jan. 14, 1969. An MK-32 Zuni rocket loaded onto a F-4 Phantom on deck overheated and exploded, injuring more than 300 men in addition to those killed. The news left a profound mark on those who knew him. Jim Bostian, a fellow seaman and friend, was among those who feels the void even now. So much so that last year, Bostian dedicated a flag in Mason’s memory when the Vietnam Wall exhibit came to his hometown of Chicago last year. In December it was delivered back to his home as a keepsake, however Bostian said he knew it wasn’t his to keep.
“I was at sea when Joe was killed,” Bostian said. “I always regretted that, and I always regretted never getting back to see his family after it happened. I knew he was an only child. Those are the kind of things that haunt you sometimes. … When they brought the flag to my house around Christmas time, I realized it belonged to his mother.”
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