COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - A severe arm injury during fighting in Fallujah in 2004 didn't keep Matthew Mason off the Iraq War battlefield. Nor did it dull the competitive fire of the avid runner and former high school athlete from outside Kansas City.
Within five months of losing part of his left arm, absorbing shrapnel and suffering a collapsed lung, Mason competed in a triathlon. He soon returned to his Navy SEAL unit., where he worked as a chief petty officer for the elite military squad.
"He could have gotten out of combat," said family friend Elizabeth Frogge, whose husband grew up with Mason in Holt. "He just insisted on going back."
Mason, 37, was one of 30 U.S. troops and eight Afghans whose CH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down five days ago in Wardak province in Afghanistan. The Pentagon confirmed his identity Thursday after debating for several days whether to release the troops' names because of security concerns.
The father of two toddler sons played football and baseball at Kearney High School. He graduated from Northwest Missouri State University in 1998. His wife, who was expecting their third child - another boy - also attended Northwest Missouri.
Mason was a member of the Delta Chi fraternity and played baseball at the Maryville university, according to his high school coach. He also played baseball at Metropolitan Community College's Maple Woods campus, said Frogge.
Mason was most recently stationed in Virginia Beach, Va., as a member SEAL Team 6 unit that killed Osama bin Laden. Military officials said none of the crash victims was on that mission in Pakistan against the al-Qaida leader.
Mason returned to Missouri in May to compete in a Kansas City triathlon, and took his young family to Walt Disney World for the first time this summer, Frogge said.
"He loved doing what he did," she said. "He was the type of guy who thought he was invincible. We thought if anybody was going A to survive, it would me Mason."
The casualties included at least one other soldier with Missouri ties. Bryan Nichols, a 31-year-old pilot who was born in Hays, Kan., but later moved to Kansas City, was one of three Army reservists based in northeast Kansas who died in the deadliest single loss for U.S. forces in the decade-long war. The 22 Navy SEALs who died represent the deadliest single loss by the elite force.