Read any good books lately? I recommend “My Road to Manhood,” by Mr. John Lawson “J.L.” Vaughn, Jr.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, his autobiography, soon to be in its second printing. Among the many great stories in his book, I’d like to focus on those featuring his military service.
A native of Rome, Mr. Vaughn graduated from Rome Colored School in 1949. His father, the Rev. J.L. Vaughn, Sr., came to Rome in 1920 to be pastor of Lovejoy Baptist Church. The family lived in South Rome.
A couple of years after he graduated from high school, J.L. lived in New York, during which time he did construction work. Through the winter months, he worked in a department store.
He states, “… I clearly remember shakily tearing open the envelope as my mother sat herself in one of the kitchen chairs.” Then he said to his mother, “I’m going.”
He completed training at Fort Lewis in Washington State. Trained as a carpenter, his job was building bunkers and bridges. With a few months remaining on his two-year army draft, he was sent to Korea with the 25th Engineer Combat Battalion.
On his arrival in Korea, there was an incident which undoubtedly made an indelible impression on him. He states, “Not long after we arrived to our campsite, I stumbled upon a couple of bags. They were about six feet long and chunky, narrowing down to a head-shaped point. ‘What happened?’ I asked some of the guys nearby. One man looked up as he unloaded the contents of his camouflage backpack. ‘They went on patrol this morning. The enemy caught them.’ I felt like someone kicked me in the stomach. The informer told me that horrific news as if he were remarking on the weather. ‘You look sad kid,’ he said after my shocked silence. ‘It’s just… you’re walking around those body bags as if nothing happened.’ Another soldier stood up, wiped his hands on his trousers, faced me, and said, ‘Well we’re sorry it was them and glad it wasn’t us.”
In early Spring of 1953, the danger that eluded J.L. thus far on his assignment to Korea finally appeared.
His battalion was repairing a road when he heard a blast. Horrified to realize an enemy mortar shell fell in their area, he became aware he was hit by shrapnel! He went by ambulance to an Army hospital. Later on he had some other health problems for which he was sent to the hospital in Pusan. Then to the Swedish Red Cross Hospital for 15 days. He was then in a hospital in Japan. He was sent home to the U.S. to a hospital in South Carolina and, finally home. April, 1953. Rome, Georgia. Home at last.
On a telephone call home to his mother, J.L. talks about the disappointments he experienced on his way back to Georgia. He just got back from war only to hear the n-word frequently. He was treated like a second class citizen. Reminded to sit in the back of the bus. Scrutinizing restaurants to discover which ones allowed people of color.
The guys in J.L.’s platoon in Korea were primarily Caucasians. Even so, there was no racial tension. War knows no race. Bullets are the great equalizer. Side by side, African American soldiers fought with white contemporaries in Korea, World War II, and Viet Nam.
During Black History Month, it is especially fitting that we honor our African-American veterans, particularly those who experienced the Jim Crow south. African-American veterans, such as Mr. Vaughn, returned home to the segregated south and more hurtful, disappointing times.
Educator. Administrator. Army Veteran. Husband. Father. A good Christian man who loves his home, his family and friends. Pursuant to having been wounded in Korea, Mr. Vaughn was awarded a Purple Heart medal. Further, he was honored with the Korean Service medal with two Bronze Service stars, and the United Nations Service Medal.
Mr. Vaughn, please accept our sincerest thanks to you for your service. You answered your country’s call to service, and gave it your best. We cannot ask for better than that.
Native Roman Pam Walker is a paralegal, and welcomes your email to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.