"Yeah, my boat's gone, but everything it was meant to provide was taken from them," says fisherman Jeff Mason.
Mason is referring to the local military veterans he hoped to take on guided fishing trips in his 20-foot North River boat. The craft was stolen Friday morning from his driveway where the retired 7-Eleven executive stored it on a trailer.
"I don't know that I've ever had a more empty, bottom-of-the-pit-in-your-stomach feeling like that."
Just the day before, Mason had met with officers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord for final approval to offer the guided fishing trips. He was prepared to lead two trips a week, free of charge, through the Wounded Warriors program.
Mason's wife, Shari, says her husband literally awakened in the middle of the night with the revelation that this would be his next pursuit.
"It's truly a passion of his to give back to the soldiers," she says. "It represents his wanting to give and serve and that to me is very important."
Mason has established a non-profit called Fishing Trips For Heroes. He wants each fishing trip to be a unique experience, taking out just one veteran at a time for a day on the river. His boat was capable of taking wheel-chair users, as well. Fishing, he says, is one of the most popular activities requested by those who participate in the Wounded Warriors program.
"We might not catch a fish every time we're out there," Mason says. "But I can hopefully at least share the environment, the nature, the river. Show them a good time."
The value of the boat and gear onboard is estimated at about $25-thousand. He has reported the theft to the Pierce County Sheriff's Office and is publicizing the crime on Facebook.
"The hope is the more people who know about what happened, the better chance of somebody spotting the boat or something suspicious and reporting it to authorities," Mason says.
The couple will continue making Christmas wreaths at their home to help finance Fishing Trips For Heroes. The plan is to sell them at a Christmas tree lot they'll set up this holiday season.
While the fishing boat is insured and would be replaced, Mason has a deep emotional attachment to the original and hopes it turns up. One way or another, he vows to start taking vets out at the beginning of the new year.
Though he's not a veteran, Mason has many relatives who are serving or have at one time. He appreciates that the opportunities and freedom he's enjoyed in life are possible because others were willing to defend them through military service.
Sharing his passion for fishing, he believes, can help soothe and heal those who were wounded while protecting others.
"This is only one small thing I can do to give back to them."