In a room filled to the brim, a Corvallis native was honored Monday for his service to his country and his community.
Standing against one wall of the Corvallis Fire Hall, Doug Mason’s father was so proud that he had to fight back tears after watching his son receive a commendation and flag that had flown over the nation's "Capitol from U.S. Greg Gianforte.
It had been about a month and a half since Doug Mason walked into BJ’s Restaurant to attend the veterans’ prayer breakfast that he had been instrumental in starting.
“He came in that day and said, ‘By the way, I'm going to get an award,’” Gary Mason said, with a smile. “I wasn’t surprised. He has done a lot since he’s come back home. That’s just part of his nature. Even before he went into the service back when he was just a boy, he had it all planned out. He’s done just what he said back then.”
Doug Mason joined the U.S. Army in 1981, a year before he graduated from Corvallis High School. He served with the Second Ranger Battalion and saw action in Grenada in 1983. When he finished his first enlistment, he returned home and went back to school and ROTC. After graduation, he was commissioned as an officer and obtained the rank of captain in the Infantry.
Mason is a decorated veteran. His commendations include the Valorous Unit Award that recognizes extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy of the country.
His military career ended abruptly after he was severely injured in Korea when a dump truck smashed into the vehicle in which he was riding in 1995. With his back broken, Mason had to learn to walk again. He moved back to Corvallis in 1999 and officially retired from the military in 2000.
“It was a long ordeal, but we got through it,” Mason said.
He didn’t let any of that slow him down when he returned to his hometown.
Mason went to work to revitalize the Corvallis American Legion Post 91 and eventually became its commander. Along the way, he used his leadership skills to promote patriotism and respect for veterans and the military in his community.
He worked tirelessly to expand the historic Corvallis Memorial Day Parade and helped establish a second parade honoring veterans on Veterans Day. He was the driving force behind the creation of U.S. and POW flag displays along Corvallis’ Main Street. Every year, he teaches flag etiquette to students in the community.
Mason’s mother, Margaret Mason, remembers the local American Legion post wasn’t doing well when her son returned home. Its members were getting older and younger veterans didn’t seem to be interested in joining.
“Doug always had a strong feeling about the American Legion,” she said. “He thought it was something he could do and he worked hard to build it back up.”
The names of the veterans in the community’s cemetery are read during a special ceremony on Memorial Day following the annual parade. Mason has made certain that all of the veterans’ names are on that list.
“I don’t know how many miles he’s walked in the Corvallis Cemetery to get every veteran's name on the roster, but it’s been a lot,” she said. “I think he knows that cemetery like the back of his hand.”
Margaret Mason said she was thrilled to watch her son receive the commendation and flag in front of so many that have meant so much to him over the years.
“I think he is so deserving of the honor,” she said. “It’s truly an honor.”
Gianforte told those gathered Monday at the Corvallis Fire Hall that he started the Montana Congressional Veteran Commendation to honor men and women who served their country and then came back home to serve their communities.
Fellow American Legion member, Mike Slaughter, nominated Mason for the honor.
On Monday, Corvallis American Legion Post 91 member Pat Clover was on hand to ensure the ceremony went as planned.
“Doug is really well known in the Legion and veterans’ community,” Clover said. “He’s the brains behind the post in Corvallis. He’s a native son and knows everyone.
“When most people think of the Legion in Corvallis, they think of Doug,” he said.
Mason said it was humbling to stand up in front of a room filled with people who were his heroes as he grew up in Corvallis.
“There were so many guys that I looked up to there,” he said. “My Uncle Frank was there. When I was younger, he was in Vietnam. He was always my hero. When I was 12, I knew I was going into the Army.”
It was there that he learned how to lead by example.
Recently he offered this advice about managing people to one of his sons.
“I told him the first thing to know is that you don’t tell anyone to do anything that you’re not willing to do yourself,” Mason said. “That’s one of the first things they teach you in the military.
“I’ve found that you can always get a little more out of your community and out of yourself, if you're willing to give direction and then lead by example,” he said.
When Mason looks back at all that’s been accomplished by the Legion and local veterans since he’s returned home, he thinks that might be the reason why.
“I kind of live by that,” he said. “The people that I tend to be around kind of think the same way. When that happens, you can get a lot accomplished.”