It was standing room only Wednesday as supporters gathered at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s Stem Conference Center to pay tribute to Thomas Franklin Vaughns -- a former Tuskegee Airman who lives in White Hall.
“I didn’t realize I had so many friends to come back and be with me today,” Vaughns said, smiling. “It was just like a homecoming. I enjoyed every bit of it.”
At Wednesday’s event, U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., presented Vaughns, 99, with the World War II Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, Honorable Service Lapel Button WWII, Good Conduct Medal and National Defense Service Medal in honor of his service in not only World War II, but also the Korean War.
All but the National Defense Service Medal were replacements for those Vaughns lost over the years.
Boozman called Vaughns “an outstanding citizen in every sense of the way and every sense of the word. He was a hero in offering his service to the country in time of war, in fact, two wars. He served in World War II and Korea, and then he came back and helped build the country.”
Boozman also described Vaughns as an example for everyone to follow in their efforts to serve the community.
“He was not only a hero in respect of serving in that capacity, but he came back through 4-H and all of the different programs he was involved in through the years and just did an outstanding job. So, he’s somebody that we should celebrate like we did today.”
Vaughns graduated from Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College (UAPB) in 1950 and used his degree to teach others.
“Through life, I’ve had an opportunity to serve so many people, and I enjoyed every minute,” Vaughns said. “After I retired, I joined a volunteer agency, and then, after that, the Delta Service Corps. It wasn’t for money -- they only gave me expenses. But I enjoyed that just as well as I did jobs that paid money. I served in Mississippi, Louisiana and Illinois teaching and training young people.”
During the ceremony, Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington declared Aug. 21, 2019, as Thomas Franklin Vaughns Day.
“… We challenge every citizen in the city of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, to learn at least two lessons from the life of Thomas Franklin Vaughns…,” Washington said. “…One is (that) life is about serving others without expecting anything in return. That’s what Mr. Thomas Franklin Vaughns has done for us. Nugget number two is our communities are strongest when we honor our civic duty to be involved.”
In addition to the medals he received from Boozman, Vaughns was showered with other tributes from the Office of U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., the Arkansas General Assembly, UAPB and even his church, Barraque Street Missionary Baptist Church.
Vaughns said he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942 and stayed at Little Rock’s Camp Robinson before traveling to California to complete basic training. He would go on to serve in the Air Corps as a mechanic for the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II from 1942 to 1946.
“There was a guy named Steve that was over the kitchen,” Vaughns said in a previous interview with The Commercial. “He told me to drop everything I was doing and report to my headquarters. I went there, and they had about 18 more guys there out of about 300 to 400 of our group. They said: ‘You guys have been selected to go to school to be Tuskegee Airmen.’”
Vaughns also served in the Korean War, where he was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, as a supply sergeant. He was later promoted to sergeant first class and was discharged in 1952 after serving one year.
“That’s when I got the letter with Uncle Sam pointing (and) saying, ‘We want you,’” Vaughns said in a previous interview with The Commercial.
“My boss told me to check my mail. He said I had some important mail on my desk, and it was mail from Uncle Sam ... I just knew that I was going to get out of it, but I didn’t, so I had to go back in and the Korean War was going on.”
Reflecting on his recognition, Vaughns said, simply, “It really only means one thing, that I served to the best of my ability.”