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Family celebrates soldier’s return
By ANNA BROWN
Myra Heatherly said she did not want anyone to cry at her father's long overdue funeral.
“It's a celebration,” she said. “It's not a sad time.”
It was a celebration because the family of PFC Aubrey Dean Vaughan finally has closure and they finally have him home, Heatherly said. Vaughan was 20 when he died on July 7, 1951, in a POW camp in North Korea. In February, Vaughan's family members were notified that his remains had been positively identified at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (informally known as Punchbowl Cemetery) in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was flown home on April 9. His funeral was held Tuesday on what would have been his 85th birthday.
Friends, family members and veterans groups from near and far packed the Holcombe Funeral Home Chapel where the service was held. Funeral home employees had to bring in extra chairs. Vaughan's black and gold casket was draped with an American flag and a spray of dozens of red roses was displayed on a rack above it. A picture of Vaughan in his uniform stood on a stand at the head of the coffin. His military medals were displayed in a shadow box.
“I never anticipated this,” said Maxine Vaughan Duckett, one of Dean's sisters. “The military has been unbelievable. After all these years they are still pursuing bringing families together.”
The news that Dean's remains had been found and the planning of his funeral have drawn the family closer, Duckett said.
“We have gained so much family through this,” she said.
Dean's best friend, John Lee “Pie” Ward, another Korean War veteran, sat with the family. Ward recalled that the two volunteered for the Army together. Ward was not initially accepted but was later drafted into service. He remembered the day Dean left.
“I went to the train station with him,” Ward said.
Ward said it was astounding that Dean's remains had been identified and returned after 65 years.
“I am glad he is home,” Ward said.
Jantzen Childers, a Vietnam veteran who is chairman of Union County's Veterans Day committee and a Vaughan family friend, read Ecclesiastes: 3:1-8 and sang a medley of hymns that began and ended with “Amazing Grace.”
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens; a time to be born and a time to die,” Childers read.
The Rev. Dr. Aulbrey Calvert, Duckett's pastor and a Vietnam veteran, gave the eulogy. He said it was an honor to be part of a service for a hero who had given his life for his country.
Calvert said Dean's actions showed what kind of person he was. Calvert pointed out that he volunteered for the service knowing his country was at war and he would likely be sent to battle. Calvert used a quote his wife, Judy, found for him when he was preparing his sermon: “A true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him but because he loves what is behind him.”
Some people want to downplay the importance of wars the United States has been involved in since the end of World War II, Calvert said.
“I take issue with that,” he said. “Somebody has to confront the bullies. Somebody has to defend those who can't defend themselves.”
The fact that Dean was promoted to PFC after only a few months in service showed that he had “kept his nose clean and followed orders,” Calvert said.
Dean earned the Combat Infantryman Badge, meaning he was on the front lines in battle, Calvert said.
“He was a prisoner of war,” he said. “He never gave in to the enemy and gave them any information to gain favoritism and gain better treatment. He was the very embodiment of the Army's values - loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. He even told his family that if he didn't make it back to use the insurance money to build a new home, and they did.”
Calvert said Dean's special friend in POW camp, James R. Hope of Belmont, N.C., took on the duty of burying him and told Dean's family they prayed together while they were prisoners. Calvert said this brings to mind Second Timothy, “I have fought a good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept my faith.”
“Dean fought the good fight,” he said. “He fought for his country. He finished his race - the race God had set before him. He served his purpose. As he and his buddy prayed together only heaven knows the effects of those prayers on fellow prisoners, his captors and on himself and his buddy. God does not give us all an assignment that lasts many years. Some are short but they serve God's own purpose.”
Vaughan's family had long prayed that his remains would be found and he would have a proper burial.
“As of today, that closure is realized,” Calvert said. “But also we are reminded of all the military heroes that have not been found, that have not been identified and our hearts ache for those families.”
The Bible says nothing can separate us from the love of God that He has for us in Jesus.
“Not even a Chinese prison camp,” Calvert said. “When Dean died I believe with all my heart he was carried by the angels into the loving arms of Jesus Christ. I cannot imagine the tremendous contrast he witnessed. He went from suffering at the hands of his captors in a dirty, filthy POW camp - being hungry, tired and scared - into the arms of Jesus and the streets of gold.”
We all one day will die, Calvert said. He urged everyone to place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ as their personal savior.
Lewis Vaughn of Greer, a board member of the National Korean War Veterans Association, presented an American flag to Heatherly on behalf of State Rep. Mike Anthony. Vaughn, who served in the S.C. House and Senate for 20 years, said Tuesday had been declared PFC Aubrey Vaughan Day in South Carolina.
Dean was buried at Rosemont Cemetery in the family plot with his parents and an infant sister. Sheriff's deputies escorted the hearse to the graveside. Along the way people stood on the streets and watched the long processional. Many had a hand over their heart.
At the graveside, members of Rolling Thunder and Patriot Guard Riders stood at attention with American flags. There was a 21-gun salute and Ronnie Lybrand played “Taps” on his trumpet.
Members of Korean War Veterans of Charlotte, many dressed in burgundy jackets, stood together in a group. One was Korean-born Young Chang Ha, a retired United States Navy captain who is chaplain of the group.
“I was 14 years old when the hell started,” he said. “I appreciate the veterans of the war so much.”
(Posted April 18, 2016)