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Military Deaths : Army Sgt. Richard Vaughn, 22, San
Diego

Tank gunner is killed by small-arms fire in Baghdad

May 04, 2008|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — When Army Sgt. Richard Vaughn came home on leave, he would visit Serra High School, where he had been a star wrestler.

He would talk to his former coach about the current crop of young wrestlers. Vaughn wrestled at 154 pounds in high school, and if Serra's wrestlers were amenable, he would give them tips on the proper way to pin opponents and on the need for dedication and hard work in such a demanding sport.

To the coach, Steve Stone, that was the essence of the young man he knew as "Ricky" Vaughn: generous, helpful, loyal.

"He was tenacious; he never quit," said Stone, who coached Vaughn in wrestling and football. "He was always willing to help other guys. Ricky was a coach's delight."

The same qualities served Vaughn well in the Army, where superiors saw maturity and persistence, the attributes of combat leadership.

As a sergeant, he led from the front and "did a lot for his soldiers," said Capt. Roman Izzo, who served with Vaughn in Iraq. "He was a tanker, one of the best tank gunners in the company."

On April 7, Vaughn, 22, was killed during a fight in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad when his unit came under attack from a militia force using small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices.

"The guys all respected him, and he taught the newer soldiers a lot," Izzo said. "He had been a sergeant maybe eight or nine months when he was shot, and in that time had grown into a fantastic leader."

At a memorial service in Iraq, Spc. Joel Geesaman said of Vaughn: "You could come to him about anything, at any time. He was always ready to give you advice. He never expected you to do anything he wouldn't do himself, and proved it on many occasions."

Vaughn's family has a tradition of military service, and throughout his high school years he had talked of joining the Army.

He enlisted in November 2003, just months after graduation. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division at Ft. Hood, Texas.

In March 2003, one of his best friends, a fellow wrestler at Serra High, Marine Cpl. Randal Kent Rosacker, 21, was killed in an ambush near Nasiriya, south of Baghdad, during the U.S. assault to topple the regime in Baghdad.

Out of respect for his friend, Vaughn got a memorial tattoo with Rosacker's name and the date of his death. "That was Ricky," Stone said, "very close to his buddies."

Vaughn is survived by his parents, James and Jennine Vaughn of San Diego County; a brother, Clifford; and grandparents Connie Lee Zude, Wil Zude and Nana-Therese Morin, all of Tucson. Vaughn's father is retired from the Navy.

Before deploying this year to Iraq, Vaughn married Rachelle Miller, whom he had known since high school. (Rosacker also had married a high school sweetheart.)

In an online memorial book, Miller's friends wrote that she had introduced them to Vaughn on Christmas: "The happiness they shared was evident that day! The smiles on their faces said it all."

In an e-mail from Iraq, Izzo said Vaughn was known as "a cheerful guy, almost always smiling and a lot of fun after work."

In the weeks before his death, Vaughn had an additional reason for happiness, Izzo said: "He found out he was going to be a father."

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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