RIO VISTA — More than 100 people packed American Legion Post 648 in Rio Vista Friday to commemorate Staff Sgt. Johnnie V. Mason’s life.

Mason, a 32-year-old Rio Vista High School graduate and 101st Airborne Division soldier, became the second Johnson County casualty of the Iraq war Dec. 19 when he died in Al Mahmudiyah, Iraq, after an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee.

According to his father Rodger Mason, Johnnie Mason headed back to his Humvee after dismantling a bomb when a security team member noticed a plastic bag by the roadside.

“Johnnie went to check it out and told them to stay back,” Rodger Mason said. “Apparently it was some kind of remote-controlled explosive device.”

Cleburne resident Jeremy O. Allmon, 19, a member of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, was killed in February when an improvised explosive device detonated near his tank.

Mason, the son of Rodger and Sabina Mason, was born Nov. 23, 1973, in Bad Kreuznach, Germany. He lived in Rio Vista with his father, stepmother Georgia Mason and stepsister Norma Hawk since he was 12 years old and attended Rio Vista schools from sixth to 12th grades.

Mason is survived by his wife, Brook Mason of Clarksville, Tenn., whom he married in 1995; his stepdaughter, Ashley Bradley, 18; and stepson, Adam Bradley, 15.

Mason entered the Army in 1991 and moved from reservist status to active duty in 1993, according to his father. He originally performed maintenance duties on Black Hawk helicopters before becoming an explosive ordinance disposal supervisor. Mason deployed to Iraq and was injured in July, suffering a concussion from a roadside bomb explosion, his father said.

Family, friends and military personnel attended the 2 p.m. memorial service, which began with “Amazing Grace” and concluded with “Taps.”

“Johnnie lived his life to the fullest for something he believed in,” Jim Thornell, chaplain of American Legion Post 522, said in opening the service.

Thornell listed Mason’s military accomplishments such as joining the Army the day after the Gulf War began and receiving 18 service medals.

“He won two Purple Hearts, and I don’t have to tell you veterans what that means,” Thornell said.

Thornell remembered Mason as a hero.

“Bless his heart, he went home to God, but in doing so he saved 11 or more of his buddies’ lives,” Thornell said. “That’s what’s called giving your all, and we in Rio Vista should stand proud having known him.”

Barney Barnhart, a former Boy Scout scoutmaster to Mason and his father, remembered Mason in the same light.

“If you’re any kind of soldier, have any guts at all, after basic training you want to go where the action is,” Barnhart said. “That’s what Johnnie wanted.”

Neither of Mason’s parents spoke during the ceremony. Instead, they sat silently and stoically throughout. They appeared to take some comfort in the hugs and support offered by fellow mourners, however. And although the mood was somber, the memorial was not without moments of fond and humorous remembrances.

Tom Hawk, adjutant of the Rio Vista Post, began his eulogy by recalling a “long, tall, gangly kid” who befriended his son Jesse.

“When they were teenagers all [Johnnie and Jesse] thought about was girls and eating, and not necessarily in that order,” Hawk said as family and friends smiled at such memories. “It took a lot of groceries to feed those kids. I think they were eating at each other’s house and not telling anyone.”

Hawk turned serious and proud then, remembering Johnnie as the youngest member of the Rio Vista American Legion.

Others recalled Johnnie as a kid who got teased in high school but who no one messed with once he returned from basic training because they respected he had accomplished more in one summer than they had in their entire lives.

Mason’s cousin, Army Reserve Capt. Tommy Mason, invoked a famous general’s tribute to fallen soldiers to honor Mason.

“Let us not mourn on how they died, but rather let’s be thankful that such men lived,” Tommy Mason said, quoting Gen. George Patton.

The ceremony concluded as mourners bowed their heads in silence to the strains of “Taps.”

“I had a closing prayer planned, but I think that song says it all and serves well as a prayer and tribute to Johnnie,” Thornell said.

Mason will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia at a later date.

Matt Smith can be reached at 817-645-2441, ext. 2339, or

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