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Veteran on cross-country ride

Logging major Memorial Day miles
By: Martha Garcia, Colfax Record Editor
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A Colfax veteran won’t forget where he spent May 30, 2011. He’s on his way to Washington, D.C. to observe Memorial Day as part of the Rolling Thunder motorcycle parade and rally and to visit the “The Wall,” the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Tom Mason’s 6,000-mile round-trip journey to the nation’s capitol is being made atop a 750cc Honda Shadow motorcycle. He’ll join an estimated 400,000 veterans on their bikes as they pay tribute to American war heroes. “It’s a remembrance of Prisoners of War and Missing in Action,” said Mason, a veteran of the Vietnam War. The ride, said the 71-year-old Mason, is on his “bucket list” of things he has always wanted to do and as a way to honor servicemen. “I have a deep and abiding respect for the 87,000 American servicemen who have been lost in war time and have not been found, primarily Missing in Action … the POWs are probably gone,” he said. Mason said he started riding motorcycles in 1959 but hasn’t ridden since 1974 when he sold his bike after an accident. “I was air policeman in my first Air Force enlistment, had the accident … broke my foot,” Mason said. His squadron commander assigned him to motor vehicle accident investigations. “He said he was going to teach me a lesson … so I could see dead bodies,” he said. Before he bought his new bike last December, Mason brushed up on his bike-riding skills at the motorcycle class offered by Sierra College in Rocklin. Hoping bad weather wouldn’t keep them from crossing the Sierra, Mason and other local riders left Auburn Tuesday noon, May 17, one day earlier than they had planned. In a call from her husband, Mary Mason said she heard about the first leg of the trip. “They went over the hill in snow, wind and hail and spent the first night in Reno,” she said. Before starting the trip, Mason said the ride averages about 280 miles a day “We’re visiting disabled veterans and veterans’ memorial halls to have dinner with them on a few occasions,” he said. After a week on the road, the riders were in Michigan City, Ind. On May 25. “They’re in a parking lot … with 150 riders and have been pulled over by the police because of a tornado warning,” Mary Mason said Wednesday. Mason also plans to go to Arlington National Cemetery, where he’ll visit the gravesite of Charles Nixdorf, an aviator who was shot down and killed in Sept. 1944 in Holland. During World War II, his grandparents had hosted Army aviators, including Nixdorf, in their Texas home. Mason said he is retired from the Air Force as well as a retired Department of the Army civilian. “I was a senior field representative for U.S. Army night vision weapon systems, for machine guns, rifles, cannons. My last assignment was in Ansbach, Germany,” he said. Mason graduated from high school in Colorado Springs, Colo. in 1958, took college courses and joined the Air Force soon after. After basic training, Mason went to France, where he grew up when his father was serving in the Army Air Corps. In France, he also met and married his wife, Mary – daughter of an Air Force civilian. The couple has two children, both living in Orlando, Fla. The Masons moved to Colfax six years ago from Auburn Lake Trails in Cool, and from Germany before that. In Colfax, he’s active in local organizations, including the VFW Post 2003 and American Legion Post 192. He is also vice president of the Colfax Area Historical Society. Charles Gray, American Legion commander, said Mason’s trip is a good activity to get involved in, if you have a motorcycle. “It’s a nice gesture … and undertaking on his part,” Gray said. “Each veteran has to celebrate Memorial Day in his own way, and that’s the way Tom is going to do it.” After his three-day stay in Washington, Mason will load his motorcycle on the Amtrak Auto Train in Virginia and take the same train to Florida to visit his son and daughter and their families, which includes five grandchildren. “I’ll spend a couple of weeks riding. My son and daughter both ride motorcycles,” Mason said. Unlike the ride to Washington, the trip back to Colfax will be solo. “I’ll be all by myself,” Mason said.