4th EMS Airman goes above and beyond for local family

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Brittain Crolley
  • 4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
"He's our guardian angel; the light shining at the end of a very dark tunnel."

For Joe and Yvonne Mason, that dark tunnel came Oct. 11 in the form of their house burning down and losing one of their beloved dogs in the fire. A catastrophe by any standard, the Mason's tragedy nearly came at a much higher cost as their teenage son, Daniel, tried to re-enter the flame-engulfed porch to rescue the last of their eight dogs.

Before he could, he was pulled back by a guardian angel and complete stranger, Tech. Sgt. Justin Manning, 4th Equipment Maintenance Squadron aerospace ground equipment technician.

"My wife came and woke me up and said that our neighbor's house was on fire so we went running down to see what we could do to help," Manning said. "I've never experienced something like that before and I was blown away by it all. I'm just happy that Daniel was able to get out safe."

As firefighters arrived and extinguished the blaze, the Masons were left with nothing but charred remnants of the life they once had. To make matters worse, the family did not have home owner's insurance, leaving them unable to replace their material possessions or even clean the wreckage.

Manning, however, refused to leave them stranded.

During the next couple of weeks, Manning spent every free minute he could helping the Masons sift through the debris looking for anything they could salvage. They did not find much - some of Daniel's CDs and hockey cards and Yvonne's wedding ring - but what they did meant the world to them.

"From day one, Justin was there for us and he's been there for us through the whole thing," Yvonne said. "He wasn't selfish from day one. He gave us his time and he wasn't afraid to get dirty. He's taught me that there truly are good people in this world."

After countless runs to the dump using his own truck, Manning was finally able to enlist help from a local business, who graciously donated two industrial-size dump trucks and an excavator, as well as full crews for each. According to Manning, the team was able to get done in five hours what would have taken him and the Masons several more weeks.

During the entire process, Manning never stopped giving. He provided food for the family during long days of cleaning, bought them each a new outfit from his own pocket, and even opened his doors to Justin to play with his son while they cleaned up.

Justin was still grieving the loss of his dog, but he quickly gained a friend. Although they had never met before, the two teenage boys instantly had something in common. Both suffer from autism.

"I know what a sudden change can be like for an autistic child," Manning said. "They have a different way of handling things emotionally and I think that's part of the reason I feel such a bond with this family. We both know what it's like and we share a lot of experiences."

With everything cleared off the lot, the Masons said they plan to rebuild on the land they've owned and lived on for more than 10 years. Yvonne added that she most looking forward to building on their newfound friendship.

"I'm excited to get back out there and getting to know Justin and his family better," she said. "Just being friends, having coffee together, and visiting with each other. He's a hero in my eyes and I'm thankful I had the opportunity to meet him. Justin is truly one-in-a-million."