David Masson

Photos and text used with permission of
David Masson.

February 18, 2016
By Brian Tanabe

All CDMRP meetings begin with a Moment of Silence, a reflection of why the best and most impactful research must be funded. These are stories and lifetimes filled with both sorrow and hope. Through the words of patients and their stories, the Peer Reviewed Cancer Research Program (PRCRP) embraces this tradition.

The following is a story written by Brian Tanabe, the teenaged son of Doctor Kenneth Tanabe, a PRCRP Programmatic Panel member, the Chief of Surgical Oncology and Deputy Clinical Director of Massachusetts General Hospital. Brian Interviewed a Vietnam Veteran, David Masson, to find out his story.

David Masson was born at the Boston Lying Inn Hospital and raised in Hingham, Massachusetts. After graduating high school, he enrolled in East Coast Aero Tech to become a helicopter mechanic, and that's exactly what he was doing when he received a draft card from the US Army. One year later, he had completed Army flight school and was flying over Vietnam as a Cobra helicopter gunship pilot, providing support for troop-carrying ships. Dave flew 941 hours in his military career, mostly over the Mekong Delta. When pressed, he proudly recalls an incident when his wingman went down. Taking heavy fire from the enemy in the tree line, Dave maneuvered his Cobra to block the line of fire and protect the downed crew, allowing them to be rescued by a third chopper. The Bronze Star was later awarded to Dave for his gallantry, and through similar deeds of valor on subsequent missions, he was also awarded the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star and an Air Medal. Sadly, since the war, Dave has struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

After the war, Dave returned to Boston and took every opportunity he could to fly helicopters. He surveyed from the air for utility companies, flew for a local television station, and then went abroad, flying as a transporter for oil rig workers in Indonesia, as well as a helicopter tour guide in Hawaii and Alaska. Dave took every helicopter job he could find until his mom called him, telling him that his father was having a heart valve replaced back in Boston. She had seen helicopters transport patients and suggested that Dave return to Boston to work for one of those companies. It was then that Dave moved back to Boston to work for Boston MedFlight. Dave flew for MedFlight for 21 years, and he logged 15,000 hours rescuing patients from difficult to reach places such as highways and islands and transporting sick patients hospital to hospital. It was while Dave was a MedFlight pilot that he met his wife Patti, a MedFlight nurse. They've been married for 26 years and have raised a beautiful family.

When Dave finally hung up his wings and retired, he was able to pursue a passion he held since childhood: fly-fishing. During his youth, one of Dave's relatives would take him fly fishing in New Hampshire, and Dave remained hooked until retirement, when he started a guide business in northern New Hampshire, guiding fly-fishers in the summer and hunting parties in the fall. He found fly-fishing to be the perfect medicine for PTSD. During his second year of guiding, Dave's business started to take off. That's when he noticed a pain in his side. After multiple tests at a Veterans Affairs Hospital as well as the Massachusetts General Hospital, an upper endoscopy revealed that Dave had esophageal cancer, and a CT scan revealed that he had innumerable bulky liver metastases. Molecular testing of his tumor revealed a gene amplification, which helped his oncologists with their treatment recommendations.

A real American hero, David Masson wanted the word to be spread to continue the fight as a tribute to all Veterans with cancer.

David Masson, a devoted husband, father, and Veteran, passed away, June 2016.

Last updated Thursday, May 26, 2022