Wrapped in honor: Dad, daughter presented Quilts of Valor

WRAPPED IN HONOR — Wanda Vaughn-Carr was completely surprised when she was called to the podium of the Casco Village Church to receive a Quilt of Valor along with her father Donald Vaughn. (Photo courtesy of Wanda Vaughn-Carr)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — Donald Vaughn beamed with pride when his daughter, Wanda Vaughn-Carr followed in his footsteps — joining the military as a young adult and moving up in the ranks.

He was proud of her accomplishments as a biomedical photographer for the United States Navy for 10 years.

He also carries in his heart a sense of honor for his tour of duty during the Korean War.

On the morning of Christmas Eve, Donald was filled with surprise and joy when he and his daughter were each presented with a Quilt of Valor.

“I am awful proud of myself and of Wanda. I didn’t get treated with much pride when we came back from there. People didn’t think we should have been involved in that conflict,” he said.

“Pretty proud — I was. It was one of my proudest moments” to get the Quilt of Valor, he said.

“It surprised both of us. I still didn’t realize what was going on. We went to church that morning. A lot of our family was there — I didn’t know why. I thought maybe because it was Christmastime,” he said. “All of a sudden, they got up and wanted Wanda and I to go up there. We both laughed and said, “What is this all about?”

It was about their military experiences.

Donald served in the Air Force, 355th Squadron. He enlisted in Portland, Maine, and served from January 1951 to December 1954. He spent 12 months near the 38th parallel as part of America’s effort to police the war between North and South Korea. For his unit’s accomplishments overseas, he received two Korean Presidential Unit Citations (PUCs) and one U.S. PUC.

The medals were “for shooting down the number of MiGs. We shot down 13,” he said.

Wanda committed a decade of her life to the Navy, serving at the largest hospital commands in San Diego, Calif., Bethesda, Md., Portsmouth, Va., and in southwest Washington, D.C., from 1980 to 1990.

“I think it was pretty much because of my dad” that Wanda became interested in joining a branch of the military, she said. “He had been in the service. It’s because of my dad that I had always wanted to serve,” she said.

Meanwhile, her father had mixed feelings about it.

“I just loved the service. I really did. I made rank fast. She moved up in rank, too,” he said.

“She was old enough to make her own choices. I was proud of her, but I sure as hell didn’t want her to go to basic training,” Donald said.

“She could tell you a few stories. She photographed the operation of (former president) Ronald Raegan, met his wife, and they became friends,” he said.

The Quilt of Valor Foundation states that its “mission is to cover service members and veterans touched by war with the comforting and healing Quilts of Valor.” The nonprofit foundation was started by the mother of a war veteran who wished that her son could be wrapped in safety and comfort.

 

The handmade quilts provide a symbolic reminder of that notion.

Donald said he and his wife Ethelin have admired the quilt.

“It is on the foot of our guest bed right now. We already have our winter blankets on our bed,” he said. “We are going to use this one. They told me to. ‘Enjoy it,’ they said. And I said, ‘I sure will.’”

Meanwhile, Wanda’s quilt is out of sight but not out of mind.

“I actually put it on my bed. I covered it with another one to protect it,” she said. “It’s so nice knowing it is there.”

More than 30 years ago, Wanda signed up for an adventure when she enlisted in the Navy.

“I was a biomedical photographer. I photographed anything medical that a navy member was involved in. I was sometimes in the operating room all day, photographing surgeries. We were the only photographers so skills were used for other subjects,” she said.

“I took pictures of Ronald Reagan and Nancy when he came in for surgery. It was awesome. It was really neat. It was quite a moment. I have a picture that he actually autographed for me,” she said.

Although there were some short-lived conflicts during her experience with the Navy, it was a time of peace.

“Desert Storm had just started to heat up when I got out,” she said.

Donald was attending Portland Junior College when America got involved in the Korean War.

“I was going to college in Portland. There was a draft notice in the mailbox. I left it there. I went and signed up for the Air Force. Then, I went and got the mail,” he said.

He was assigned to fighter jet communication — gunsights and radar was his specialty. He spent a year on Korean soil.

“We lost the base three times while we are there. And, the Marines would take it back the next day. That was pretty scary, especially if you’ve never been bombed before. We were in tent compounds: Six men to a tent. We had fox holes around the tents. Every night, they would scrap the field. We lost our tent areas three times. We lost all our clothes,” Donald said.

“They blew the tents all to pieces, while we were in fox holes about 15 feet away,” he said. “It was kind of wild. That is war for you.”

“The war ended three days after we got out to sea, coming home. They signed the peace treaty,” Donald said.

After that, his unit along with two others was shipped to George Air Force Base in Victorville, Calif. It was an experimental base, where the test pilots went to test new jet fighters.

“We all ended up in the Mojave Desert,” he said.

When Donald had finished his four years with the Air Force, he asked for a 30-day furlough. It was Christmastime and he wanted to go home to see his sweetheart in Casco. By late December, there were standing together in the snow singing Christmas carols with church members.

Sixty-three years later, the husband and wife were sitting in the pews when his name was unexpectedly called.

“It was a surprise to Wanda and me both. She knew about mine, but I didn’t know about it. She didn’t know she was getting one. I was surprised. I didn’t know what to say for a few minutes,” Donald said.

Wanda described how that morning’s events unfolded before a quilt was wrapped around her shoulders.

“On Sunday, I was already poised and ready to take pictures of my dad. They said, ‘We have a surprise – we are giving out two quilts today,’ ” she said.

“The quilts are really beautiful. They are really special. I feel honored to receive one,” Wanda said.

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