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Robert Andrew Vaughn


Robert Andrew Vaughn

Robert Andrew Vaughn was born 14 Jan 1928 in Forsyth County, North Carolina, probably in Winston-Salem, where he grew up. His father, William M. Vaughn, originally from Lancaster, South Carolina, was a custodian at the First National Bank in Winston-Salem, a Mason and a trustee of St. Paul Methodist Church. His mother, Mamie Fields Vaughn, a native of Charleston, South Carolina, taught piano lessons at their home at 1120 E. 14thStreet. Of their six children, Robert was the only boy.

Robert enlisted in Raleigh on 16 Feb 1943, barely a month after his fifteenth birthday. He evidently lied about his age. His father may have vouched for him.

His best friend, Melvyn Brown, was a few months younger and lived two doors down. They were attending Atkins High School together — they were probably freshmen or sophomores — when Vaughn signed up. Brown was thinking about enlisting too, but, as he noted later, “My parents weren’t thinking that way,” so he stayed in school, attended college and pursued a career as a YMCA executive. The last time he saw his friend, Vaughn had come home on furlough and was on his way back to his base. He seemed to like the Navy, Brown recalled.

Vaughn served as a steward’s mate aboard the MACAW. He was black, one of a handful of black men on the crew, and black men were typically consigned to galley work in the Navy at the time. If he resented the assignment, he did not show it. He was cheerful and well liked by his shipmates.

After Vaughn joined the Navy, Brown got his news about him from, and relayed messages to him through, Vaughn’s sisters, from whom he heard — accurately — after the MACAW sank that a wave had picked him up and smashed him against a gun. That happened with such force, he probably died instantly. He was one of the five MACAW crewmen who died when the ship sank and the only one whose body was recovered. He was buried at sea with military honors within days of the 13 Feb 1944 sinking, a month after his sixteenth birthday and a year after he enlisted.

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