Friends, family honor fallen soldier
EDWARDS -Dressed in a patchwork tank of pastel colors, Becca Vaughan told the crowd gathered in her family’s backyard that her brother, John Shaw, would have wanted them to celebrate his life with smiles and laughter. About 150 people gathered at the Vaughan residence in Cordillera Sunday afternoon for a memorial service to honor Lt. John Shaw Vaughan, 23, a 2001 Battle Mountain High School graduate who was killed in Iraq Wednesday.John passed away doing something he loved, Becca said. “He would never have gone if he didn’t think he was doing the right thing,” she said.Becca said she treasures the hours she spent with John in their garage, helping him work on his Jeep.”John cared about everyone with such intensity. If you didn’t feel that, you must have not known him very well.”Prefacing her speech with “I know, I’m supposed to be the tear-jerker, right? Don’t worry,” Becca kept a smile on her face while she spoke, but broke down when she thanked her mother.”You did so well. You were the best mom ever,” Becca told Sarah. “I know sometimes you didn’t think so, but John and I loved you so much. I lost my best friend, but I still have my other best friend.” At her grandmother’s request, Becca recited the poem “If,” by Rudyard Kipling.
John Vaughan’s uncle, Dick Shaw, spoke about a hunting trip he went on with the fallen soldier in early October years ago. They had taken John and his mother’s horses, Cricket and Sissy, up Beaver Creek Mountain to Mud Springs. The first night, the weather turned.”We discussed should we stay up here or should we maybe just back down now,” Shaw said.John was adamant about staying, he said. The third day was the last day of the elk-hunting season and the weather was gorgeous. Climbing up and down hills, they came across many deer, but no elk. In the last 10 minutes of the legal hunting season, the two came across a herd of elk.”We thought, ‘You know, this is stupid, but let’s go kill that elk,'” Shaw said.The two weren’t keeping track of time. By the time they had the elk loaded on the saddles, it was 10 p.m. They walked along a path littered with Aspen leaves and illuminated by a full moon for four hours until they came across a ski patrol phone. They called John’s mother, Sarah.After she stopped screaming, Shaw told her they were fine and safe and would be home in two hours.”Then she said, ‘Well then I’ll call Search and Rescue and tell them you’ve been found,” Shaw said. Shaw saw the trip as a defining moment in John’s young life, he said. To the crowd’s surprise, Shaw revealed John was only 11 years old at the time.
Jason Turner, who was John’s roommate at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, Fla., always went to John for advice since he was a year older. John went on to get assigned to military intelligence branch detail infantry, two of the most requested assignments.Out of about 5,000 cadets this past year, about 70 of them received those two assignments, Turner said.A skier, Turner said he always loved Vail and John had been nice enough to invite him to visit his home.”He had lived with me for months, and I didn’t know he lived here,” Turner said. “He was really quiet.”Carmel Cammack, who was in the ROTC program at Embry-Riddle with John, spoke about how they used to dance together at a local country bar. When he couldn’t master the salsa or swing, he would just dance country to any music.”When the opportunities present themselves in life, let us take a lesson from John,” Cammack said. “Regardless if you hear the music or not, get out and dance.”
Joe Horvath, who met John at an American Jeepster Club rally in Frisco in 2000, said he was remembers the teenager, who was “skinny as a stick” and kept asking him questions.”There must have been some kind of glue that was out there that day because we stuck together ever since then,” he said.He and other members of the Jeepster Club were baffled by John’s posts on the Web site’s bulletin board because of his technical knowledge.”This guy has gotta be 45 years old or something because he’s too smart to be 16 or 17 years old,” said Horvath. The two used to talk about girls and relationships, too.”I said, ‘You don’t want to wait until you’re in your 40s like me, because marketability declines,'” Horvath said. John didn’t chase girls much, Horvath said. His second semester in college, he did start bringing home girlfriends, though.”He might have thought they required a lot more maintenance than a Jeep,” he said, joking. Horvath, who doesn’t have a son, once told Sarah, “I’m adopting John,” he said.”You couldn’t ask for a more perfect young man in every way to represent a family or a country,” he said.
Army chaplain, Andrew Meverden, who served in Iraq in 2004, empathized with the family’s loss.”I lost 11 men, and No. 11 was just as hard as No. 1,” Meverden said. “And I can tell you now, No. 12 is just as hard as No. 1. It never gets any easier. It never becomes routine or old hat.”Meverden said John had made the ultimate sacrifice fighting in Iraq so that Americans could be safe.”We don’t begrudge anybody who has a negative opinion, who doesn’t think we should be there, but John, his fellow soldiers and myself, we believe that we can either fight them there or fight them here,” he said. The local chapter of Veterans of Foreign Wars helped the Vaughan family organize the memorial. The chapter also contacted the Patriot Guard Riders, who arrived in motorcycles. More than 30 of them stood holding American flags along both sides of the Vaughans’ driveway. “The support we’ve had this week is absolutely amazing,” Becca Vaughan said. Letters from the soldiers in John’s battalion and an Iraqi translator were read aloud, which revealed how much they respected John. Local musician Tony Gulizia played the keyboard and Veterans of Foreign Wars member Tom Kirk played the saxophone for a rendition of “America, the Beautiful” and “God Bless America.” Nic Corbett can be reached at email@example.comVail, Colorado