WASHINGTON- U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) recognized the service of Thomas Franklin Vaughns, a veteran of WWII and the Korean War, in ‘Salute to Veterans,’ a series recognizing the military service of Arkansans.
Vaughns grew up on his family’s 50-acre farm in Felton, a community in rural Lee County. “Marianna was our closest town, so when we’d go out and talk with kids we’d say we’re from Marianna,” Vaughns said.
He attended Marianna High School, walking more than three miles each way to get to school. He was about to start his senior year when he received his draft notice. “Economically, anything was better than on the farm, so it didn’t bother me,” he said.
Vaughns reported to Camp Robinson in September 1942. He remembers his first assignment. “They said ‘You got a promotion. You’re a kitchen policeman.’ So I waited for my badge,” he laughed. Vaughns quickly learned the duties that came with this title. “They had me take a chair and then pushed a bushel of white potatoes in front of me and gave me a knife.”
He wasn’t there long before he was sent to Bakersfield, California for basic training.
Following basic training Vaughns was given the job of assistant baker. After about two months, the baker got in trouble and Vaughns was promoted to head baker. He liked the early morning hours. “I’d get up at two o’clock in the morning and off at eight. That was a pretty good schedule,” he said.
Vaughns remembers having to report to headquarters one day. There he found another 18 soldiers who were all given a new assignment with the Tuskegee Airmen.
He served as a mechanic on the B-25 bomber. “It was thorough training,” Vaughns said of what he remembers as 33 weeks of instruction. He was assigned to training command where his role was to make sure the aircraft was in good condition for pilots to perfect their flying skills.
A typical day was spent working on one B-25, inspecting its condition, fixing any problems and testing it to ensure the plane could get the power it required to get off the ground. “It was so much noise. If you didn’t have earphones you couldn’t hear a thing. That was thrilling to me,” Vaughns said.
After WWII, he graduated high school and finished college at Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College (AM&N), the precursor to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. He married the love of his life, Luvada, and was working for the Department of Veterans Affairs teaching veterans farming skills.
He signed up for the Army Reserves thinking he wouldn’t have to serve in active duty again, but Uncle Sam came calling. Vaughns served as a Supply Sergeant stationed at Fort Hood during the Korean War. It was his responsibility to have supplies ready for soldiers who were deploying. “I think I worked about 20 hours without any rest, so I went to the First Sergeant and asked to be a private,” Vaughns laughed.
He was discharged as a Sergeant First Class in 1952 and went to St. Louis to join his wife. He faced discrimination in finding work so the couple moved back to Arkansas. Within hours of returning home, he was hired for the same VA position he held before he was deployed.
He spent his career supporting agriculture, teaching others farming techniques and encouraging future generations of Arkansans. For 20 years, he served with the Cooperative Extension Service and spent more than a dozen years at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff as a horticultural specialist. He also served in roles at AmeriCorps VISTA, Delta Service Corps and 4-H Clubs of America. Vaughns is also one of the men who helped establish the LeadAR program in the state.
Today, the 99-year-old calls White Hall home.
“As a member of the Greatest Generation, there is a lot we can learn from people like Thomas Franklin Vaughns, who has spent his life giving to others. Through his selfless service in uniform and tireless work in support of the community and mentoring young Arkansans, he’s truly made this world a better place. I’m honored to share his military experiences so others can be inspired by his generous spirit,” Boozman said.
Boozman submitted Vaughns’ entire interview to the Veterans History Project, an initiative of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center to collect and retain the oral histories of our nation’s veterans.
In August, Boozman presented Vaughns with medals he earned in service to our country in a ceremony at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.