I recently attended the Stars & Stripes Fishing, Golf and Music Concert, a charity event, and one of the largest children’s fundraisers of its kind in the world. Seven hundred people not only fished, but also participated in the Golf Tournament and other activities, and participants stayed in the host hotel, the Hilton Los Cabos Beach and Golf Resort. The 33 boats and 180-plus anglers departed each day from Chileno Public Beach, one of the most picturesque bays in Baja.
I had been part of the crew who had worked on the event the year before, and had looked forward all year to once again being involved in the excitement and wonder of the many events this year.
SOON, THE BOAT he would be fishing, the Yahoo, arrived, and Mike Hahn and William “Bill” Wagasy gently lifted Masson and carried him across the sand, onto the portable pier, and then into the cockpit of the waiting sportfisher, without a hitch.
As I unpacked my cameras and my new DJ1 drone, Tournament Chairman Dick “El Dicko” Gebhard hurried by on one of his missions. “John Masson and his family are going out today; be sure to take lots of photos!” he excitedly called over his shoulder as he headed over to greet them.
Master Sergeant John Masson had served in the U.S. Army in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm with the 1st Armored Division. Additionally, Masson served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring freedom as a Special Forces Medical Sergeant with the 20th Special Forces Group (Airborne).
On Oct. 16, 2010, while conducting Village Stability Operations in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, Masson stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) losing extremities to preserve freedom for us. With the immediate knowledge that he had lost both legs and his dominant arm, he aided his fellow medical sergeant and teammates in treating his wounds — actions which clearly saved his life. Masson received the Purple Heart for his injuries, and a second Bronze Star for his actions in combat.
From Fayetteville, North Carolina, he and his family had been invited by Stars & Stripes organizers to attend the event as an Ambassador of the Gary Sinise Foundation. In addition to the trip, a “Smart Home” was being built for Masson by the Gary Sinise Foundation, for his wife, Dusty; son, Jonathan; daughter, Morgan; and son, Ethan, designed to ease the day-to-day challenges they face. It is scheduled to be completed this November.
ALONG WITH THE rest of the family, they headed out into the Sea of Cortez.
Soon, the boat he would be fishing. The Yahoo, arrived, and Mike Hahn and William “Bill” Wagasy gently lifted Masson and carried him across the sand onto the portable pier, and then into the cockpit of the waiting sportfisher, without a hitch. Along with the rest of the family, they headed out into the Sea of Cortez.
It wasn’t long after lines were put out, that 10-year-old Ethan was hooked to a fleeing, jumping striped marlin.
“Pretty amazing, a 4:30 wake-up call, being carried to the boat at 7 a.m. In no time at all, Ethan is fighting a fish twice as big as he is,” Masson related later that afternoon. “It took him 45 minutes to catch and release him!
“We saw other fish, and a few hours later, Shea Elledge hooked up another one, which she fought for a while before it came off the hook. She commented later that it was the largest fish she had ever fought and she couldn’t believe how hard it pulled.”
When they returned to the Hilton that afternoon, Gebhard greeted them, bouncing with excitement and hugging Masson in elation that they had done so well for the day.
After the Awards Banquet that evening, and before the Sinise and Lt. Dan Band Concert, Gebhard invited Ambassador Masson to join him on stage. As he made his way up, Gebhard introduced Saul Contreras, who has been with him since he began “Stars & Stripes” 18 years ago. “He is a dear friend… why, we have even peed in the bushes together,” he continued. “And he has learned English much better than I, Spanish.”
“PRETTY AMAZING, a 4:30 wake-up call, being carried to the boat at 7 a.m. In no time at all, Ethan is fighting a fish twice as big as he is,” Masson related later that afternoon. “It took him 45 minutes to catch and release him!”
“I had never met John Masson, and I called him and asked what he would like to do while he was here, and what did you answer, John?” Gebhard asked.
“I want to go fishing!” he replied.
“Then I told him that was fine, we could do that. We will take you to Cabo; take you down the dock and you can board the boat and you can ride up to Chileno… or (this word always gets me in trouble). We can carry you across the sand to the portable pier and load you on a panga and take you to the boat. Which would you like?”
“Living on the edge, that’s how we roll,” he replied. “Carry me.”
“Then my dilemma was old boat/new boat? I worried all night, and the next morning on the beach, John was adamant, old boat!”
“Saul, tell everyone what happened next.”
And Saul took the microphone. “I was riding with Señor Gebhard back to the hotel, when I received the call on the handheld VHF at 7:23 a.m. that they were hooked up. When I told “El Dicko,” he pulled to the side of the road and wept with joy!”
With that, Shawn Parr, Emcee and Auctioneer, held up a custom red, white and blue Fender Stratacaster guitar signed by the entire Lt. Dan Band which would be auctioned off with the proceeds going to the Gary Sinise Foundation. In short order, the beautiful guitar was bid up to $15,000 and sold.
Formalities over, the entertainment began; Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band had the crowd dancing in front of the stage and in the aisles.
With silent and live auctions and live music concerts on the beach, the event raised over $2.7 million during the four-days, increasing the total amount for the past 18 years to over $20,000,000. This is the largest amount ever raised for children’s and other charities by a sportfishing-based tournament.
This is one story of what can be done when a dynamic group of interested volunteers, coupled with the enthusiasm of supporters and sponsors, get together to make a difference in someone’s life. Now multiply that by thousands and more whose lives have been touched, and you have to realize there are many heroes in this story.
AFTER THE AWARDS Banquet that evening, and before the Sinise and Lt. Dan Band Concert, Gebhard invited Ambassador Masson to join him on stage. As he made his way up, Gebhard introduced Saul Contreras, who has been with him since he began “Stars & Stripes” 18 years ago.
WITH THAT, SHAWN PARR, Emcee and Auctioneer, held up a custom red, white and blue Fender Stratocaster guitar, signed by the entire Lt. Dan Band, which would be auctioned off, with the proceeds going to the Gary Sinise Foundation.