Thomas Franklin Vaughns (1920–)
Arkansas native Thomas Franklin Vaughns served in both World War II and the Korean War as an enlisted aircraft mechanic. His service during World War II was with the Tuskegee Airmen, and he returned home to Arkansas after his service where he spent a long career working with veterans and agricultural programs.
Born on July 7, 1920, in Lee County to Harrison and Dessie Vaughns, Thomas Vaughns grew up in Felton (Lee County) on the family farm. At the time of the 1930 federal census, he lived at home with his parents and four siblings. The family owned a fifty-acre farm purchased by Vaughns’s great-grandfather in 1872. His father also worked as a carpenter. Vaughns walked more than three miles each way to attend school in nearby Marianna (Lee County).
Receiving his draft notice in 1942 as he entered his senior year of high school, Vaughns reported to Camp Joseph T. Robinson in September of that year. Initially assigned to work in the kitchen, Vaughns received a transfer to Bakersfield, California, where he completed basic training and served with the Fifty-Fourth Aviation Group. Assigned to continue working in food service, he became an assistant baker before replacing his supervisor and serving as the head baker for a unit. Transferred with eighteen other African American enlisted men, Vaughns trained to become an aircraft mechanic alongside both white and Black soldiers. Following a thirty-three-week course, Vaughns was assigned to the 2143rd Army Air Forces Base Unit. He served through the war with the unit.
After the end of his active service, Vaughns continued his high school education in St. Louis, Missouri, before attending college at Arkansas AM&N (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff—UAPB), graduating in 1950. He obtained a position with the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs, teaching agricultural skills to former soldiers. Continuing to serve in the Army Reserve, Vaughns was re-called to active service during the Korean War. Stationed stateside at Fort Hood, Texas, Vaughns served as a supply sergeant with the Twenty-Ninth Heavy Tank Battalion and was discharged in 1952 at the rank of sergeant first class.
After a brief period in St. Louis with his wife Luvada, Vaughns returned to Arkansas and continued working with the Department of Veterans Affairs. His career included twenty years of service with the Cooperative Extension Service and twelve years as a horticultural specialist at UAPB.
Vaughns worked to open up economic opportunities for African American farmers. In the mid-1950s, Vaughns established a farmers’ market in Crittenden County where African American–grown produce could be sold (this after multiple efforts to sell it in other markets failed). He later started a similar operation in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). Vaughns served in various leadership roles AmeriCorps VISTA, Delta Service Corps, and 4-H Clubs of America. He also helped impoverished students from across the state attend UAPB, finding financial assistance and work positions on campus to help them succeed.
During his World War II military service, Vaughns received five military decorations, including the World War II Victory Medal, the American Campaign Medal-World War II, the Good Conduct Army Medal, and the Honorable Service Lapel Button. At a ceremony on August 21, 2019, Vaughns received replacement medals for his World War II decorations that had been lost over time. He also received a fifth decoration, the National Defense Service Medal, for his service during the Korean War. Receiving the decorations from Senator John Boozman, Vaughns also received copies of citations passed by the two houses of the Arkansas General Assembly. A speech honoring Vaughns was entered into the Congressional Record by Representative Bruce Westerman. The city of Pine Bluff honored the veteran by naming August 21 as Thomas Franklin Vaughns Day. The following year, Vaughns was inducted into the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame.
Luvada died in 2001. The couple had one son and two daughters.
For additional information:
“Boozman Recognizes Service of Tuskegee Airman.” Press Release, Office of Senator John Boozman. https://www.boozman.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2019/9/boozman-recognizes-service-of-tuskegee-airman#:~:text=Vaughns%20served%20as%20a%20Supply,for%20soldiers%20who%20were%20deploying (accessed November 7, 2023).
Hehmann, Will. “Thomas F. Vaughns, AM&N Alumnus, Tuskegee Airman, Inducted into Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame.” UAPB News, March 27, 2020, https://uapbnews.wordpress.com/2020/03/27/thomas-f-vaughns-amn-alumnus-tuskegee-airman-inducted-into-arkansas-agriculture-hall-of-fame/ (accessed November 7, 2023).
Thomas Franklin Vaughns Collection. Library of Congress, Washington DC. https://www.loc.gov/item/afc2001001.118444/ (accessed November 7, 2023).
Southeastern Louisiana University
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