Staff Sergeant Johnnie Mason was smiling when I met him, a few days after he had dodged death. He was part of an Army bomb squad team in Mahmudiyah, not far from Baghdad. An improvised explosive device, stuffed underneath a set of corpses, detonated just feet away from him in mid-July. Only his kevlar bomb suit — and a quick duck behind a mound of dirt — kept him alive.
If Mason was bothered by the experience, he didn’t show it. “All I’ve got is a little short-term memory loss. There are four roads on post — I keep getting lost,” he laughed.
But he had enough wherewithall to get back to work, he promised his commanding officer. Mason eyes grew big, and he cracked a toothy grin, when he got the okay.
I shook my head in wonder at Mason’s easy-going bravery then.
Now, I’m cradling my head in my hand, after getting this message from Sergeant Jon Ferraro, from the “Baghdad Bomb Squad.”
On 19 December 2005 @ 23:30, my team leader SSG Johnnie V. Mason was killed in the line of duty in Al Mahmudiyah, Iraq. We were working on an IED in the median of a road, when a possible secondary IED was found in our safe area. SSG Johnnie Mason responded immediately to the secondary and took immediate actions on the device. He was trying to safe the device when it detonated…killing him instantly from the explosion (at exactly 23:30). He saved at least 4 soldiers that night who were within feet of the device. SSG Johnnie Mason is a fallen brother. A brother in arms. An EOD brother. A husband to his wife Brook and a father to his 2 step children: Ashley (18) and Adam (16). He will not be forgotten. His loss will not be in vain.
He was my team leader. He was my NCO. He was my best friend. He was my brother. I have never gotten so close to someone in such a short time. I first met Johnnie when I got to Ft.Campbell, KY back in January of this year. I found out he was going to be my team leader for Iraq back in March. Ever since then we have been inseparable and we’ve had a brothers bond.
We were Team 8 “Jokers”. When we rolled out on an incident, everyone knew who we were. Johnnie was a joker. He’s the guy that makes everyone laugh and smile. Everyone liked him or loved him. He was always in a good mood and made the best out of every situation. He was cool under pressure and was an amazing team leader. He taught me alot as a person, as an EOD [explosive ordnance disposal] tech…and soon to be husband. We had fun on every incident we ran. We ran safely, as fast as possible, and held high standards as a team. Everywhere we went on post, someone would say hey to Johnnie from the lowest ranking private to the Brigade Commander. Everyone knew him.
I ask that everyone take a moment of silence and pray for his family and friends during this horrible time. I ask God to keep them strong and safe during this time of Christmas. I ask that you forward this to all the EOD techs you know and the friends and loved ones of his.
Thank you and God bless,
SGT Jonathan M. Ferraro
717th Ordnance Company (EOD)
UPDATE 12/22 8:52 AM: More on Johnnie here and here. If you’re interested in sending condolences or flowers, e-mail me.
UPDATE 12/25 11:46 AM: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has some choice snippets of Johnnie’s battlefield humor. And the Ft. Worth Star Telegram hangs out with Johnnie’s Dad.