Beer and a barbecue at Saddam’s palace
When Lt. John Shaw Vaughan was assigned to a four-year post at Fairbanks, Alaska, he decided to ditch the plane and drive the 3,400 miles from Colorado in late March just “for the heck of it,” said Carmel Cammack, who went to college with Vaughan.
“He decided to drive up because he wanted to be adventurous,” said Cammack, who is now stationed at Fort Rucker, Ala., for aviation basic officer training.
Vaughan, who grew up in Eagle County, was killed in Mosul, Iraq, Wednesday after his battalion was attacked.
Jennifer Wornath, of Fairbanks, remembers Vaughan’s sense of adventure well, having gone to the Arctic Circle with him at his insistence, a four-hour drive. They left at 8 a.m. with the iPod his sister bought him loaded up with his favorite music. They went on many impromptu trips together in his Jeep ” a 1942 Willys painted Army-green ” or his prized truck, with which he loved to tinker.
“We would take off driving somewhere, my hair blowing in my face and a big grin on his face,” she said.
Vaughan was always “the first to take a beer” at a party, but he also knew when to put the fun aside and get work done, Cammack said.
“He knew how to play with the best of them, party with the best of them, and he would work with the best of them,” she said.
As battalion commander for the ROTC program during his senior year of college, Vaughan would always be the first and the last out of the field while training the underclassmen.
“He was always thinking of how can he better train, how he can be the one to improve what the younger kids are going to get out of training,” Cammack said. “He could’ve just let things ride and go with the flow.”
That was how he got into the position in the first place.
“He was a quiet leader,” Cammack said. “He was definitely not one to go out and try to gain the spotlight. It was recognized these were his characteristics and they put him in a leadership position, and he really proved his battalion.”
When Vaughan started at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, he wasn’t very out-going, said Duane Miner, who met Vaughan at the freshmen orientation.
“He used to be shy freshman year and sophomore year, and then he came out of his shell junior year,” Miner said.
Vaughan began going out to a nearby country bar, the Rocking Ranch, where he learned how to dance. Miner recalls Vaughan as a very flirty dancer, and not shy at all.
Vaughan and Cammack quickly became dancing partners.
“We’d see a cool move, and we’d try to imitate it, and whether it worked or whether it didn’t, we’d come up with some variation thereof and make it ours,” Cammack said.
For a semester and a half, Cammack said they would go out with a group of their friends “quite regularly” to swing night on Tuesdays, salsa night on Thursdays and country night on Fridays, where they would take lessons.
One night at a bar, Vaughan introduced Miner to his future wife, Melja.
“He was like, ‘You better go over and talk to this girl. Trust me. You’re going to marry one of these girls,'” Miner said. “Well, I went over talk to her, and we’re getting married this week.”
In Fairbanks, Vaughan found other venues to continue dancing, and encouraged Cammack to visit him there. “He wanted me to go up to Alaska to show me what a real country bar is like,” she said.
Cammack took Vaughan to her military formal this year, where he spontaneously decided to flip her, a move he learned from the swing classes, while she was wearing a fancy ball gown.
By the time he got to Alaska, Vaughan had developed his dance moves.
“There was always a lot of girls who wanted to dance with him,” Wornath said.
But when Vaughan took Wornath out to dance, it was just him and her. Once, they went to a nice restaurant with a bar, where Vaughan grabbed Wornath and got her to dance with him around the pool table ” without any music playing.
“He made his own music,” Wornath said, giggling.
Wornath met Vaughan through the networking Web site MySpace two months ago.
“I had a bunch of my friends that were bugging me to join MySpace and he had a blog on there about Alaska,” Wornath said.
The two started talking online and then decided to meet for lunch one day, she said. After that, they hung out just about every day.
“It was just a tough situation, because we knew he was leaving, so we didn’t want to get too close,” Wornath said. “But we really enjoyed our time together.”
Vaughan used to tell Wornath a million times over, “You’re beautiful. You’ve got a good head on yourself. You have a ton of motivation. There isn’t anything you can’t do.”
That proved what a good friend he was, she said.
“It made me feel really wonderful,” she said. “I had been through a lot of tough things in my life, and it just felt really good to hear someone say those things to me.”
Although Wornath said she is sad she won’t see him again ” they had plans to go see a Sugarland concert in October, she is glad she got to know him.
“I’m sure he’s having fun where he’s at now,” Wornath said. “That’s the only way he could live. He was the kind of person that could make the best out of any situation.”
Amanda Heidenreiter, who knew Vaughan through MySpace, never got the chance to meet him. The two had talked online and on the phone for about nine months.
“Even though I didn’t get to meet him, I could tell he was a good person,” she said. “He was a good officer. He would’ve gone far in the military.”
He had told her he was going to visit her at Fort Benning when he came back from Iraq. They even made lists of things they were going to do together ” drink beer, eat steak, go horseback-riding and run a half-marathon.
Heidenreiter confided in Vaughan about many things, including how she had never had a Valentine on Valentine’s Day.
“This past year, he said he’d be my Valentine and sent me a card and gifts,” she said.
Before he left for Iraq, Vaughan sent Heidenreiter a gift ” a coat rack made out of horseshoes he welded together.
“He told me wherever I go in my career, I would have good luck if I carried around this coat rack ,” she said.
Heidenreiter, who is at Fort Knox, Ky., for training, is a second lieutenant in the Army. “I realize I’m going to be heading over to Iraq myself, and I know the danger, but it’s hard to deal with the loss of someone you care about,” she said.
Vaughan last called Heidenreiter on June 2 from Iraq, she said.
“He was sitting, I believe, on Saddam’s palace drinking a Coor’s Light ” he loves Coor’s Light ” and having a barbecue,” Heidenreiter said.
Wornath saw Vaughan off when he left Fairbanks for Iraq in early May. After Vaughan left, he’d call Wornath and talk about his time there.
“He always described it as ‘fun,'” she said. “That was the first thing he’d say.”
Vaughan truly loved strategy and planning out the next maneuver to “outsmart the bad guy,” she said.
“He had so much courage and bravery,” Wornath said. “He was never concerned about charging into the darkest allies. … Other people weren’t willing to go there, but he would.”
Vaughan was very dedicated to his battalion, she said.
“That was how he lived, and that was how he died,” Wornath said.