'He lived out the whole God, country, family thing': George Mason, Guadalcanal vet, dies at 98
LAKE PARK — Life spent in hard times and wartime made George Bowdry Mason “a rock” to his family, but never turned his heart to stone.
He grew up in West Palm Beach “too poor to buy shoes,” said Terri Overton, his daughter. His father died when he was 4, and he saw a train hit and kill his brother when he was 9. He survived 18 months at the infamous Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, where the staff beat him often, leaving his body scarred.
Then he became a U.S. Marine and prevailed through the Battle of Guadalcanal, the World War II battle in the South Pacific in which thousands of other men died. When he came home, he raised five of his own children and three of his grandchildren. He even built a roof on Mar-a-Lago.
Mason survived to the age of 98. He died Feb. 26 at the Lake Park residence where he spent his final years.
“He lived out the whole God, country, family thing,” Franchot Donth, his grandson, said between tears. “He was our rock. In any moment of need, It didn't matter what state anybody in the family was in or where we were, but if we had a problem, he was there. That’s how I’ll remember him.”
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Life took him from 46th Street to South Pacific, and Mar-a-Lago's roof
Mason moved to West Palm Beach from Indian River County before he started school. He and his brothers and their mother lived with his grandparents at a home on 46th Street.
Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Curtis Chillingworth sent him to the Dozier School for Boys when he was 14. At the time, Mason wasn’t attending his public high school classes over his shame for not owning a good pair of shoes.
“The (Dozier School for Boys) definitely prepared him for war,” said Overton, 58. “They beat those boys until the clothes they were wearing were inside of their skin. (He used to say) he still had scars in his blood from what happened.”
Mason enlisted in the Marines in January 1942 — as soon as he could after he turned 17. Before that, he delivered The Palm Beach Post and Western Union telegrams by bicycle in 1941.
It was a telegram that delivered the news to his family of the disappearance and death of his cousin, Claude Rich, on what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called "the day that will live in infamy" — Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor, drawing the United States into World War II.
Mason was roused to service after receiving the news.
Pearl Harbor Anniversary: A cousin's death led George Mason to enlist as Marine in WWII
During the Battle of Guadalcanal, which was the first offensive and decisive victory for the U.S. Allies in the Pacific, he spent a torturous six months without much food and hardly any sleep. He left the island weighing only 98 pounds.
"I stayed wet 23 days with the same set of clothes on," Mason, who was the last surviving member of his unit, told The Post in 2014. "Conditions were terrible, nothing but the ground beneath you and the sun over your head. And hot."
After returning home, Mason built roofs on homes across Palm Beach County, retiring after a pallet fell on one of his shoulders. A high point in his career was installing one at Mar-a-Lago, current home to former President Donald Trump.
He soon met Vista Gorenflo Mason, his wife and the love of his life for 51 years. He stayed in love with her his entire life, Donth said. He also was her caretaker for 17 years after a surgical error left her paralyzed from the neck down.
“For the past 20 years that (Vista) had been gone, he’s mentioned her in pretty much every conversation I had with him,” said Donth, 50. “He talked about how beautiful she was and how she was everything to him. He used to say, ‘One day, I’ll be reunited with her.’ ”
Donth took care of Mason in the last 12 years of his life. He saw it as returning the favor, as Mason had raised him and his two siblings.
“He was my father, grandfather and best friend all in one,” Donth said. “He took care of me growing up, so I owed it to him.”
'Fearless' WWII vet stayed sharp until end, family says
Donth said he stayed sharp even to his last days, and could even recall “every single detail” about the time he spent in the military.
“We are all a very tight family. We are all at a loss because my father was our anchor,” said Overton, who described him as “fearless.” “He always made sure we all had a place to call home.”
Mason is survived by Overton, who lives in Maryville, Tenn., and another daughter, Gail Albritton of Ohlawaha, as well as 14 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren. His wife, three of his children and three of his grandchildren died before him.
“As he got older, the biggest thing that brought him joy was seeing his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren all together,” said Overton. “He would say to me, ‘I made this many kids? That’s a lot!’ ”
Maya Washburn is a reporter for The Palm Beach Post, part of the USA TODAY Florida-Network. Reach her at email@example.com. Support local journalism: Subscribe today.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Marine vet George Mason dies at 98; survived Battle of Guadalcanal