Span along Route 46 dedicated in honor of highly decorated WWII pilot
AUSTINTOWN — While most veterans will tell you the real heroes are the men and women who never came home from their service, Bill Vaughan said he believes that Americans need heroes they can connect with.
That’s why naming the state Route 46 bridge over Interstate 80 in Austintown in memory of his late father, Air Force 2nd Lt. William Vaughan, is important, he said.
The older Vaughan was honored Monday with a ceremony marking the dedication of the bridge and the donation of a replica memorial sign from Austintown Township to Quaker Steak and Lube on Patriot Boulevard. A small crowd braved the heat to gather in Quaker Steak’s parking lot to celebrate Vaughan’s dedication to his country and his legacy.
The highly decorated Vaughan, an Austintown native, flew 73 combat missions and 594 combat hours with the 5th Air Force, and the 19th then 43rd bomb groups based in Australia, during World War II.
Vaughan, born in August 1920, is most famous for being part of the most decorated flight crew in U.S. Air Force history, which was on a photomapping mission over the Solomon Islands when it was attacked by a slew of Japanese planes. In a lengthy engagement, the all-volunteer crew fought off the enemy planes while it finished mapping.
Vaughan was hit in the neck with a bullet fragment. While injured, Vaughan saw the plane’s navigation equipment and radio had been destroyed and took it upon himself to use a backup radio he had brought to make contact by Morse code with a base, according to a letter from the plane’s pilot, Jay Zeamer. Vaughan provided Zeamer with the directions to find Dobodura Airfield.
“I owe my life and the lives of our entire crew to Willy,” reads the letter from Zeamer.
The younger Bill Vaughan on Monday said his father was a problem-solver.
He said while most thought the mapping excursion would be a suicide mission, his father thought it was a problem to solve, which is why he brought an extra radio.
“We need both heroes and problem solvers. What was unique about my dad was that he was both,” Bill Vaughan said.
Doug Davies, William Vaughan’s younger half-brother, said his early memories of Vaughan were that he was “quiet, kind, and caring.”
Davies recalled the family getting letters from Vaughan after he joined the service and that information, including parts of the return address, was censored or physically cut out in case the letter fell into the wrong hands.
Davies was only 8 when the family received news that Vaughan had gone missing in action, but he said he remembers it clearly to this day: he was outside playing with his puppy but heard “screams and crying” when two military personnel told his parents.
Vaughn’s plane had been shot down during a bombing run over Rabaul, Papua New Guinea — but he and several other crew members survived, made their way to an Australian camp behind enemy lines and eventually rejoined their unit.
William Vaughan’s service earned him three Purple Heart medals — he was also slashed in the neck by a bayonet when he was part of an advance landing party at Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea — as well as 14 Air Medals, two Presidential Unit citations, and the Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Southwest Pacific Campaign ribbon, American Defense ribbon, Good Conduct ribbon and Philippine Campaign ribbon. He was commissioned and received his pilot wings as a bombardier in 1944.
William Vaughan eventually returned to the Mahoning Valley and raised a family. He died in December 1999, at 79, of pancreatic cancer.
Marine Corps veteran Ken Jakubec of Austintown said he believes William Vaughan is Mahoning County’s most decorated veteran.
Jakubec and state Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstpwn, led the effort to dedicate the Route 46 bridge to Vaughan.
On behalf of the township, Austintown Township Trustee and Marine Corps veteran Robert Santos unveiled a memorial sign that is a replica of the one on the bridge. It will hang in Quaker Steak and Lube. The restaurant is already home to other armed services memorabilia.
Mahoning County Commissioners Carol Rimedio-Righetti and Anthony Traficanti thanked William Vaughan’s family — some of whom traveled from well out of the area — and lauded the selflessness of his service and veterans, especially World War II veterans. Rimedio-Righetti said commissioners on Thursday will sign a resolution honoring Vaughan.
Jakubec played audio from a restored 1944 interview with William Vaughan, which earned applause from all in attendance.
“He talked about (his service) like it was an everyday job,” Jakubec said of the interview.
The colors were posted and retired by American Legion Lake Post 737 of Lake Milton Honor Guard, with Tony Viano, Tom Moore, John Bulick, Jim Boehmer, and Carl Kutsko; and an invocation and benediction were given by Chaplain John Chittock.
Former Austintown Township Trustee Ken Carano, who hosted the ceremony, closed by saying that while the day’s program was over, it would keep going as long as the Route 46 bridge is standing.