Friends take up soldier’s mission to collect toys
When Army Sgt. Mason Lewis wrote to his mother from Iraq, he didn’t ask for anything for himself.
The 26-year-old Gloucester, Va., man wanted her to send toys he could give to the children he saw playing in the streets with cans.
His friends are continuing his mission with Operation Mason, a drive to collect stuffed animals to send to Iraq in memory of Lewis, who died Nov. 16 when he fell off a roof in a training accident.
“I never got to tell Mason ’thank you’ or to say ’goodbye’ to Mason. I never really got to say, ’You know what, you’re such a great person,’ “ organizer Christa Arnest said in a telephone interview. “This is our way of keeping Mason alive for us and to let those kids know they’re not forgotten, that America hasn’t forgotten about them.”
Arnest and Lewis became friends several years ago when they managed side-by-side stores in Gloucester.
Often, he’d pop into her store to help the female employees move heavy items, and he insisted on accompanying them when they took out the garbage at night. Once, he chased and tackled a thief running out of Arnest’s store.
Lewis left in May for his second tour to Iraq with the 26th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Stewart, Ga.
At his funeral, family and friends spoke about his selflessness, including his requests for toys for Iraqi children. “To give everything you have for people you don’t know … that, ladies and gentlemen, is a hero,” Sgt. Jeff Klein, who served with Lewis, said at the funeral, according to news accounts. “There will never be another soldier that I’ll ever work with that will be as good as Mason.”
Published in The Messenger 12.19.07