MILTON, Ga. – During action on March 7, 1968, Harry Kenneth Vaughan’s armored personnel carrier hit a mine and blew up. Vaughan died just seven days shy of his 21st birthday.
Vaughan grew up in the 1960s in what is now Milton. He graduated Milton High School in 1967 and was drafted into the Army immediately after.
For his service in the 9th Infantry Division in Bien Hoa Province in Vietnam, he was given the Bronze Star and Purple Heart posthumously.
In an effort to honor and remember Vaughan, the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association (AVVBA) held a memorial service May 22 at Milton High School’s football stadium.
Soldiers from Vaughan’s unit, the 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry at Fort Benning, were in the memorial, providing the Color and Honor guards while men who served alongside Vaughan paid their respects.
Jerry Jaworski was beside Vaughan when he was killed.
Both Jaworski and Vaughan were Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) drivers – also called “track jockeys” – a role Jaworski said was dangerous.
“Harry was quiet and unassuming. He was just a good guy who was always willing to help,” Jaworski said. “We became good friends in Vietnam.”
Being in an APC was dangerous work, he said.
“In Vietnam, it was much safer to ride on top of the APC than inside it,” Jaworski said.
The drivers had to be inside the machine, which was prone to be the victim of land mines or rocket-propelled grenades.
The group was traveling through a rubber plantation, with Jaworski’s vehicle in the lead and Vaughan directly behind him. At some point, Vaughan was ordered to take the lead.
“The lead track is by far the most dangerous,” Jaworski said. “[Vaughan] hit a land mine.”
The explosion tore apart the vehicle and killed three men instantly. Two more died of their wounds later.
“The Vietnam veterans returned home to what should have been a grateful nation,” said Ronnie Rondem, organizer of Milton’s event for the AVVBA. “Instead we were ignored.”
The bitter theme was echoed throughout the memorial, reflecting a sorrow on the part of the veterans that fallen comrades such as Vaughan never received the recognition they deserved.
Each year, the AVVBA holds a memorial service for a fallen Vietnam soldier in the community from which they came in an effort to correct the lack of recognition when they came home.
Every year, the AVVBA tries to find a speaker who may have served with the fallen. This year, the featured speaker was retired Lieutenant Gen. J. Ron Helmly.
“I am proud to serve with Harry Vaughan and the 58,000 Americans who died in Vietnam,” Helmly said. “We honor them all here today.”
For many Americans, Memorial Day is simply a day off and a time to have fun, he said, but “Harry Vaughan and his fellow warriors did not have fun.
“Soldiers went expecting to fight for the flag,” Helmly said. “They found themselves fighting for their buddies.”
After the service at Milton’s football field, the dedicated monument to Vaughan was placed at Freedom Park, on Deerfield Parkway. A more permanent memorial will be made when Milton City Hall is built.
For more on the AVVBA, visit them online at www.avvba.org