Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Mike Vaughan remembered

"He was a very proud and courageous man."

That's what George Vaughan wants others to know about his son, U.S. Army Sgt. Mike Vaughan, just days following Mike's death in a suicide truck bombing in Iraq.

And others agree.

"Mike was a quiet young man who was quick to smile. He was always very helpful and friendly, just a quality individual that would represent any school and family in the highest regard," David Phelps, Mike's high school principal, said.

"He was very faithful and always felt confident serving. That was a big help; you knew you could always depend on him," commented Father Mell Stead, former pastor of St. Augustine's Catholic Church in Lincoln City, where Mike was an altar server.

"He always had a lot of courage ... when it came to whatever he was doing," Vaughan's grandfather, Bill Vaughan, recalled.

Though not a large person - he wrestled at 119 pounds in his senior year - Mike Vaughan had a big personality that left an impact.

"The kids who are seniors this year were freshmen when Mike was a senior. They're all really, really sad - and for Mike to have made that kind of impression says a lot," Diana Elroy, Taft High School records clerk, said.

Vaughan was among nine paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina who were killed in Monday's attack. Twenty more paratroopers were wounded in the blast, which is being called the single deadliest for the 82nd Airborne in nearly 40 years. The incident was also the greatest loss of life for American ground forces in Iraq since Dec. 1, 2005, when a roadside bomb killed 10 Marines near Fallujah.

Vaughan's family learned of his death early Tuesday morning; since that moment, George Vaughan says, "It's been a fight."

Mike Vaughan was eight months into his first tour of duty in Iraq, and had just been home on a two-week leave, prior to his death. His parents took him to Portland, for his return to Iraq, the morning of April 10.

Because his 20-year-old son was an only child, George Vaughan said Mike was not required to return to combat. "But he had made a commitment, and said they were counting on him ..." George said.

Mike Vaughan had always wanted to be a soldier, to follow in the footsteps of his father, a disabled army veteran who had served in the first Gulf War. Mike's mother, Deborah, is also an army veteran; in fact the couple met while attending intelligence school at Fort Devens, Mass.

"He grew up with it," George said. "He came to me his senior year and said this was what he wanted to do. He was a young senior, so we had to sign for him. We talked to him, and honored his request."

Following his graduation in 2004, Mike Vaughan attended basic training at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He went on to advanced cavalry training, then airborne school. "He was classified an expert marksman, and was handpicked to do sniper missions," George said.

In Iraq, Mike's "main mission was to stop insurgents and quell any problems," George continued. This involved "a lot of door-to-door, and working with indigenous forces ... and Mike struggled with that a great deal because they weren't into it. You know the saying, 'You can lead a horse to water ...'"

Though he initially thought about making the military his career, George said his son began talking about attending school - Virginia Tech, ironically, in particular - to pursue a career in law enforcement, instead.

His experiences in Iraq, Mike's grandfather and father feel, may have led to Mike's change of mind. Bill Vaughan said, "He was so patriotic, so positive. But when he came back (on leave) he related a few things that were going on over there, and he said, 'Nobody there likes us, nobody wants us there, everybody's shooting at us.'

"I asked him how his friends felt, and he said, 'We all feel the same. We wonder what the hell we're doing there.'

"Mike said, 'I don't want to go back, but my buddies are there.' He no sooner got back, and he was killed," Bill Vaughan added.

Born Nov. 2, 1986 in Bluefield, West Virginia, Mike Vaughan and his family came to the central Oregon coast in 1996, settling near George's parents' home on East Devils Lake Road in Otis, just outside of Lincoln City.

At Taft High, Mike was known for his wrestling skills; he was a tough competitor in the lighter weight classes. "He started out his first (freshman) year at 97 pounds dripping wet," George Vaughan recalled. "His sophomore year he wrestled 103, then 112, then 119."

Mike was district champion one year, and he went to state three years. "He was an excellent wrestler; he also liked to write stories, and was a really good writer," Bill Vaughan said.

George said his son enjoyed camping, and had purchased a new quad while home on leave. "He also liked fixing up his truck, and had just put on new wheels and tires, and installed a new stereo."

Family was also important to Mike, and he "was very proud of his folks," Bill said. "He was very proud they had both been in the army."

Now Mike's family is struggling with an unthinkable loss, with an entire community that's also in mourning. "I'm so proud of what the town has done," George said. "It's bewildering, we're just in awe of the outpouring of support.

A community candlelight service was held Thursday night at D River Wayside State Park in Lincoln City. Funeral services for Mike Vaughan are tentatively scheduled for May 8 at St. Augustine's Catholic Church in Lincoln City, with burial following at St. Paul, Ore. - next to George Vaughan's brother.

From the Newport News Times

Related Link:
Michael L. Vaughan dies of 'wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his location'