A Washington state man with a passion for serving veterans says he was devastated after thieves stole the boat he had planned to use to give wounded veterans guided fishing trips on the state's North River.
Lifelong fisherman Jeff Mason, 58, of Puyallup, Wash., returned to his home Friday morning to find his 20-foot boat, which had been locked up, stolen from his driveway.
"I can tell you this, I've never had that sick-to-your stomach feeling before in my life. Nothing like it," Mason told ABC News. "It was just devastating."
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Mason, who retired in January, had been working for the last several months with the Wounded Warrior Project to offer guided fishing trips for returning veterans and their families on the North River.
"I made the decision that I was going to do a lot of volunteer work in my retirement. I'm an avid fisherman. I can give wounded warriors fishing experiences doing something I absolutely love," Mason said.
Mason had planned to conduct at least two fishing trips a week for wounded veterans, starting in January.
"I bought the boat specifically for my mission," Mason said, adding that the boat was capable of easily accommodating wheel-chair users. "I was jacked. It was just all coming together perfectly."
He valued the boat and missing gear at about $25,000. The Pierce County Sheriff's Department is investigating the theft, Mason said, but has not had any success finding the thief or thieves. The Pierce County Sheriff's Department was unable to provide an update.
Although not a veteran himself, Mason says his family's serving in the military inspired him to give back.
"I thought fishing and doing something for our wounded warriors was a perfect combination," Mason said. "I have lots of family members and friends who did serve. I have a son-in-law and nephew who are active-duty."
Regardless of whether the boat is recovered, he said, he plans to take wounded veterans out on the river in January. "It will happen," he said, adding that the stolen boat was insured and that a friend has already offered his boat until a replacement can be found.
"By hook or by crook, starting in January we are going to start fishing," Mason said.
He also wants the individual or individuals responsible for the theft to be held accountable.
"I want there to be some accountability for the individual who did this," Mason said. "When people steal stuff, they have no idea what the back-story is for what they are stealing. I want that individual to understand that their self-greed has impacted a bigger audience than just themselves."