Dec 22, 2016
Charles "Chuck" Vaughn, of Kankakee, Illinois, never got to see the famous flag-raising on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima.
He was too busy trying to stay alive.
Later a successful auctioneer and business owner, he was wounded twice during the battle of Iwo Jima while serving with the 5th Marine Division. The brutal battle required three Marine divisions to subdue the Japanese-held island, which was considered vital because of its airfield. Vaughn went ashore Feb. 19, 1945, with the second wave of the amphibious assault. The flag, made famous by Joe Rosenthal's Pulitzer Prize-winning photo, went up Feb. 23. The battle raged until March 26, 1945.
Vaughn, 91, died Monday at his home in Kankakee.
The 21,000 Japanese fought almost to the last man. Only 216, many of them unconscious, were captured. The 5th Marines, known as the Spearhead, took a higher percentage of casualties in the battle than any other Marine unit. Of the 17 Medals of Honor received by the Marines and Navy Corpsmen of the 5th, 12 were earned posthumously.
Vaughn had a dangerous role as an explosive expert. Armed with a .45 automatic handgun, he carried 50 pounds of plastic explosive. With a consistency similar to putty, the C2 could only be detonated by a tetryl cap. The fastest way to seal the fuse inside the cap was to bite down with your teeth.
"Of course, you had to do it just right, or you'd blow your jaw off," Vaughn said in an interview in 2006. While other Marines provided covering fire, Vaughn would run up to an enemy pillbox, set the fuse in some C2 and drop the explosive in.
On March 11, Vaughn was hit by shrapnel in his left leg. He stayed on the front lines until March 19, when he was shot in the right arm. Evacuated to Great Lakes Naval Hospital, his arm was paralyzed for nine months.
Vaughn had served in a 13-man squad of heavy weapons experts, where men carried explosives, bazookas, flamethrowers or Browning Automatic Rifles. Only four of those 13, Vaughn once said, made it to the end of the battle uninjured.
After the war, Vaughn was the successful owner of Vaughn's Furniture Outlet and The Carpet Connection. Interviewed for the longtime Business of the Week feature for the Daily Journal, he once said his business emphasized value for the common homeowner.
He was long active in the Marine Corps League and a member of its color guard, presenting the flag with other members of the color guard at Veterans Day, Memorial Day and many other community events. Ramrod straight and fit well into his ninth decade, Vaughn always looked like a Marine. Each Nov. 10, the local league, for a number of years, had a dinner dance to celebrate the Marine Corps' birthday. Having taken ballroom dance lessons, he looked sharp on the dance floor, as well.
Vaughn is survived by a large extended family: four sons; a daughter; their spouses; 14 grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren with two more on the way. Visitation is at Clancy-Gernon-Hertz Funeral Home today from 4 to 8 p.m. and from 10 a.m. until an 11 a.m. service Friday at Immanuel Baptist Church in Kankakee.
He was devoted to his wife, Donna, who died in 2006. They were married for 54 years. He served as a caregiver for several years. After her death, he started a Donna Jean team for the memory walk of the Alzheimer's Association.
In his later years, he frequently would walk Sarge, his golden retriever, on afternoons among the trails and trees at Gov. Small Memorial Park on the west side of Kankakee.
Vaughn was one of three area men interviewed throughout the years for their service on Iwo Jima. Rene Pommier, of St. George, died at 91 in 2015. Leonard Klenzak, of Kankakee, celebrated his 95th birthday last Jan. 18.