Among the seven U.S. Marines who were killed in a live-fire training exercise explosion in Nevada on Monday night was Jamestown-born Lance Cpl. Mason J. Vanderwork, 21, the son of Melissa Vanderwork, 38, of Hickory, N.C.
Mason was born in WCA Hospital. He was the son of Melissa and Kevin Hallberg, of Jamestown. Melissa graduated from Jamestown High School before moving to Hickory, to be reunited with her father. Mason was about 4 years old when Melissa made the move. He graduated from St. Stephens High School in 2010, and was ready to join the Marines the day after graduation. One of Melissa's fondest memories of Mason was when he graduated from high school, she said.
According to Melissa, it was one of Mason's goals to enter the Marines, and he had already taken his pre-courses before he graduated.
Lance Cpl. Mason J. Vanderwork
"He did it for me and his sister, (Katelyn McMahan, 11)," Melissa told The Post-Journal. "I wanted to go into service when I graduated high school, but I had Mason at a young age and I would have had to give up custody in order for me to go in. I chose not to do that and to raise him by myself. I think I did a pretty good job."
In addition to Mason's love for the Marines, he also enjoyed the beach and was a fish in the water, said Melissa. He loved cars, and from the age of 12 had a dream of someday owning a Ford Cobra, which he purchased shortly before the accident.
"When he got back from Afghanistan he finally got his Ford Cobra," said Melissa. "He said to me, 'See, I told ya Mom,' and I said, 'I know, I'm proud of you because you've turned out to be the man that you are.'"
Mason married Taylor Vanderwork in June, and he was deployed for the majority of their marriage, said Melissa.
"She never really got a chance to get to know him - but, they both loved each other," said Melissa.
Mason's uncle, DaWayne Vanderwork, of Lakewood, got the news about Mason on Tuesday and decided to drive down to Hickory with his stepfather, Terry Vanderwork, of Clymer. DaWayne remembers his nephew as being an exciting, strong, smart and loving kid, he said.
"He didn't have time to enjoy his high school graduation or anything - that's how dedicated Mason was to being a Marine," said DaWayne. "We were all very proud of Mason, whether it was when he was serving in Afghanistan or if he was home. Even if he wouldn't have been in the military we still would have been proud of him. He graduated high school and was doing the best he could to take care of his mother and his sister. He was also recently married and took on that responsibility of having a wife. He wanted to start a family, and settle down to start another chapter of his life."
Mason served in the Marines for three years. He completed two tours, one in Afghanistan and another in Kuwait. He was waiting on his third deployment when the accident occurred.
According to DaWayne, the family has been told it could take up to three years to find out the details regarding the accident, but he wants to know why and what exactly happened, he said.
"Obviously you fear for somebody's life when they go across seas to war, but not when you come back and you're doing training exercises," said DaWayne. "It was an accident, and nobody meant for it to happen. But, you don't think anything when he is home and working. So, we want to find out why and how this can be prevented to make sure other families don't have to go through this tragedy."
According to The Associated Press, the explosion Monday caused an immediate suspension of the use of 60 mm mortars by the Marine Corps, with an exemption for troops in Afghanistan..
The family has been assigned a sergeant of the Marine Corps for counseling and informational purposes.
"I'm very proud of my son," said Melissa. "He was one of a kind, and was my everything. He knew he was momma's boy."