Five overdue medals were awarded to a 99-year-old World War II veteran on Wednesday afternoon in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.
Sergeant First Class Thomas Franklin Vaughns, 99, was a Tuskegee Airman in the Army Air Corps from 1942 to 1946 and served as a mechanic. He was later drafted into the Korean War, where he served as a supply sergeant at Fort Hood, Texas.
On Wednesday afternoon, Vaughns was honored during a ceremony at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) and received the World War II Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, Honorable Service Lapel Button WW II, Good Conduct Medal, and National Defense Service Medal.
Four of the medals were replacements for those that had been lost over the years. However, the National Defense Service Medal, which Vaughns received for his service during the Korean War, had not been awarded to the veteran until now, according to reports.
When asked why it took so long for him to receive the medal, Vaughns said, “Well, we were so glad to get out of there, I was just ready to come home.”
Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), who presented Vaughns with the medals, praised him for his dedication to his country and called him a hero.
“We all know about his great career in the military, going off at a young age to serve his country, willing to do whatever he was asked to do,” said Boozman. “Then he came home and, like the greatest generation, rebuilt the country.”
“He’s a hero in every sense of the word,” Boozman continued, “not because of his military service — that’s part of it — but he’s a hero because of the way he’s lived his life.”
Vaughns graduated from UAPB in 1950 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Science. He later mentored young people involved in 4-H clubs and helped them get into college. Vaughns called those students “my kids.”
“I probably brought 80 or 90 kids here in my time,” Vaughns said. “Education is important. Very important.”
The beloved veteran offered advice to the young people in attendance Wednesday, saying service is one of the most important things one can do for his or her community.
“Stay off drugs that’s number one when you have the opportunity to go to school stay in school. When you come out…come out with the idea of serving people,” Vaughns concluded.
The mayor of Pine Bluff also declared August 21 Thomas Franklin Vaughns Day in honor of his service.