Navy SEAL Aaron Vaughn
Before the rest of the country came to know his name, Aaron Vaughn was a hero to his cousin, J.D. Sanders.
Sanders, who served as the police chief for the City of Martin from 1995-2003, hadn’t had the opportunity to visit with his cousin in a very long time, but has strong memories of him that have stood the test of time.
Now serving as police chief for the City of Hobbs in New Mexico, Sanders reflects on the life of a man who always made his family proud with his actions, both in the Navy and as a family man.
“I haven’t seen him in 20 years. His family moved to Florida, but our entire family is very proud of him and what he’s done,” Sanders remarked. “He was the same age as my two sons and they were close growing up.”
“It’s tragic,” he continued, “but it’s tragic for anyone who’s lost someone involved in battle. It doesn’t matter if they were out fighting or peeling potatoes in the mess hall. A life is a life.”
The Navy SEAL’s family could never say much about his often covert work.
But that all changed early Saturday when they learned the Obion County native was among 38 — including 22 Navy SEALS — who died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.
Vaughn, 30, is the son of Karen and Billy Vaughn Jr. of Stuart, Fla., formerly of Obion County, and the grandson of Geneva and Billy Vaughn Sr. of Union City.
“Karen and I talked about that yesterday,” Geneva Vaughn told The Messenger Sunday. “She said, ‘Granny, while he was living, we couldn’t tell anything. Now that he’s gone, we can tell everything about Aaron that we know.’”
The handsome young serviceman, who smiled often, is being remembered as a faithful Christian and devoted family man who died doing what he loved to do.
“He was a tough warrior, but he was a gentle man,” Mrs. Vaughn said of her 6-foot-4 1⁄2-inch grandson.
Aaron Carson Vaughn was born and raised in Obion County. His family moved to Florida when he was a high school sophomore, but he returned to Obion County his senior year and graduated in 1999 from Obion County Central High School, where he played football.
He went to college for a couple of years in Florida and joined the U.S. Navy at age 20. He began SEAL training right after boot camp.
“He always wanted to be a Navy SEAL,” Mrs. Vaughn said.
“He played Army on all the hills around our house,” his grandfather added.
The Vaughns recalled that their grandson’s photo appeared on the front page of The Messenger when he was a young student at Hillcrest Elementary School in Troy and he responded to a question posed to students about the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.
The photo was published Oct. 17, 1990, when The Messenger asked fourth- and fifth-graders at the school this question: “What do you think should be done about the Middle East situation?”
The young Vaughn had responded, “We shouldn’t let them take over a lot of places. Saddam Hussein’s intending to take over a lot of places. We should go over there for the sake of young people he’s killing with gas.”
“He made a very good statement,” Mrs. Vaughn said. “I don’t know if he said he wanted to be a SEAL, but he did ever since he was a little boy.”
Mrs. Vaughn said her grandson had been all over the world as a Navy SEAL and had been on Middle East missions in Iraq and Afghanistan other times in the past. He earned numerous medals, including the Medal of Valor for his first deployment to Iraq, when he went in advance of the rest of his team to set up communications and the operation.
“It was so good and they were so pleased with it that the next SEAL team that went over used that same operation technique that Aaron set up,” his proud grandmother said.
She said he was stateside at his home in Virginia Beach, Va., with his wife, Kimberly, for the birth of their second child, daughter Chamberlyn, in June. The baby was two weeks old when Vaughn deployed again June 29.
Vaughn’s wife is a former Washington Redskins cheerleader whom he met in Guam while he was on a training mission and she was on a tour. The couple also has a son, 2-year-old Reagan, named for former President Ronald Reagan.
“They were so much in love,” Mrs. Vaughn said.
Called to action
Mrs. Vaughn said her grandson “wanted to be in action.” She recalled that when he and his wife married about three years ago, he was told that he could relocate from the West Coast to Virginia Beach on the East Coast to join the elite SEAL Team 6.
She said just before the wedding, Vaughn received a call saying he was needed back in Coronado, Calif., for two years to help train other SEALs. After those two years, he was able to relocate to Virginia Beach as part of SEAL Team 6.
“That’s what he asked to do was to be in action on SEAL Team 6,” Mrs. Vaughn said. “He did not want to be an instructor. No, he wanted to be in the action.”
Mrs. Vaughn said when her grandson was stateside, the family knew where he was located most of the time. But when he was in Afghanistan on sensitive secret missions, they traditionally did not know his whereabouts.
“We didn’t know when he was out on missions,” she said.
She said Vaughn last spoke with his wife on Friday.
“Kimberly talked to him Friday and she said they had a real good conversation,” she said. “He emailed her a lot of times when he got in off a mission and let her know he was OK. He called her Friday, the day before he was killed, and he got to talk to Reagan.”
Kimberly Vaughn told CNN, “It was actually a great conversation — probably just about time before he went out to work that night. We got to tell each other we loved each other, so it was a great conversation to have.
“I want to tell the world that he was an amazing man, that he was a wonderful husband and a fabulous father to two wonderful children. He was a warrior for Christ and he was a warrior for our country and he wouldn’t want to leave this Earth any other way than how he did,” she also told CNN.
Geneva Vaughn said her family in Obion County received word of Vaughn’s death about 8 a.m. Saturday.
“The only thing we know is that evidently Aaron’s team had just finished an operation and they were headed back and they got a call to go to another mission. They started back on that one and that’s when they were shot down,” she said.
She said her grandson’s body is expected to arrive in Dover, Del., today (Tuesday) and a military funeral will be planned at Arlington National Cemetery.
A family’s faith
The Vaughns are a tight-knit Christian family who are relying on their faith in God to carry them through the days ahead. In addition to Billy Jr., Geneva and Billy Sr. are the parents of Bobby Dale Vaughn and Kelly (Vaughn) Preuett, who also make their homes in Obion County with their families and all worship together at Woodland Mills First Baptist Church.
Geneva Vaughn said she finds great comfort in scripture found in II Corinthians 5:6-8 — “Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”
“That gives me a lot of strength,” she said. “I know where Aaron is and I know that Aaron loved his Lord and he loved his country and he loved his family and he was willing to give his life for them. He was doing what he wanted to do.”
Billy Sr. recalled a conversation he had with his son after learning of his grandson’s death.
“I said, ‘Son, how are you, how are you?’ He said, ‘Daddy, don’t ask me that any more.’ He said, ‘God gave His Son to save me from my sins and to save all of us.’ He said, ‘Now I’ve given my son to this country, to save this country.’ He said, ‘So, you see, I can’t be angry,’” the senior Vaughn said.
Mrs. Vaughn added, “He told me when I talked to him Saturday morning, he said, ‘I prayed for him this morning, Mama, and he was already gone.’ He said, ‘I said Lord, don’t let Aaron be one of them.’ And then he said, ‘Lord, I’m sorry, I don’t have a right to say that because there’s 30 other families hurting, just like I am.’ And he said, ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord.’”
Mrs. Vaughn said her grandson would be pleased that God is being glorified through it all.
She added, “Billy Jr. said, ‘Mama, God gave Aaron breath and God took it away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.’”
Editor’s Note: Press Staff Writer Sara Rachels may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Messenger Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by email at email@example.com.