A feel good story.
A boy with an inoperable brain tumor has found unexpected allies in a corps that banded together to help him face his fourth debilitating round of chemotherapy. Mason Giove, 12, of Whitman, Massachusetts, is being reinforced by “Detachment Mason,” whose first mission brought the youngster to Fort Benning, Georgia, to spend the day as a tank commander.
“It was great!” Mason tells PEOPLE. “I loved it!”
Mason has been fighting pilocytic astrocytoma, a rare form of tumor, since he was 18 months old, his parents Mark and Laura Giove tell PEOPLE. The tumor grows in odd directions, and is located so deeply within Mason’s brain that it cannot be removed surgically.
Mason relies on a feeding tube for sustenance. He struggles to communicate. His muscles are weak. […]
“He loves the Army,” Mark says. “He loves watching movies about D-Day, and learning about military history. And he really, really loves tanks.”
So much so that Mason’s nickname at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, where he goes for treatment, is “Mr. Tank.”
Which is what lead to Mason become an armor commander at Fort Benning.
The process began last fall, when longtime family friend Eric Runci, who lives near Fort Benning, visited the Giove family near Boston.
“Mason is the friendliest kid ever,” Runci tells PEOPLE. “He’ll just come right over to you and start talking. He was telling me all this stuff about tanks. You could see how much he loves them.”
The exchange gave Runci an idea.
“If this makes him happy, let’s show him some real tanks,” Runci says. “Let’s make him feel like a kid.”
“Detachment Mason” swung into action.
Runci contacted his friend Andrew Kloster, who works at Fort Benning and knows Lt. Col. Jeffrey Paine, who commands an armored cavalry (tank) squadron on post. One thing led to another, and the mission – to appoint Mason a tank commander for a day – was approved.
Runci and his wife Megan held a fundraiser, selling homemade reindeer cork ornaments, in order to finance the trip. Soon Mason and Mark were headed to Columbus, Georgia, where the post is located.
At Fort Benning, Mason was commissioned into the 16th U.S. Cavalry Regiment, at the rank of brigadier general. The soldiers there issued Mason his own uniform. It fit perfectly. The soldiers formed a convoy to escort Mason and Mark into the field.
“We drove for 45 minutes,” Mark says. “Suddenly in the middle of the woods, we go to the top of a hill, and there were all these tanks. Just there. Not doing anything. Just there.”
While Mason looked on, open-mouthed, a metal behemoth advanced toward them.
“There’s this giant M1, coming up the road,” Mark says.
The Abrams M1A2 Main Battle Tank rolled to a halt in front of its new commander, Mason. The soldiers helped lift Mason up and into the vehicle.
“He climbed all over it,” says Mark.
The soldiers showed Mason a Bradley A3 fighting vehicle, and fired off six rounds from another tank. The soldiers then brought Mason into a training simulator, where he hot-rodded his tank at high speed.