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Capt. Vaughn represents the best of the Greatest Generation

Capt. Clarence R. Vaughn Jr. is shown in this photo during action in Germany. Vaughn wrote to his wife of the atrocities he witnessed at a German concentration camp.

Capt. Clarence R. Vaughn Jr. is shown in this photo during action in Germany. Vaughn wrote to his wife of the atrocities he witnessed at a German concentration camp.

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Clarence R. Vaughn Jr. and his bride, Doris Henson, exchanged vows on June 14, 1943. A few months later, Vaughn was aboard the Queen Mary headed for Northern Ireland and later the beaches of Normandy.

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Judge Vaughn was elected the first judge of the newly formed Rockdale Judicial Circuit. He retired in 2001 as chief judge. He is shown here speaking at a public event in Rockdale County. -- Special Photo

CONYERS -- The late Clarence R. Vaughn Jr joined his father's law practice in 1946. He practiced law for 36 years until elected first Superior Court judge of the new Rockdale Judicial Circuit. As required by law, he retired as chief judge in 2001 at the age of 80.

A devoted member of Conyers First United Methodist Church, Vaughn loved the Salem Campground and served as chairman of the Salem Board of Trustees. He donated generously to the Rockdale County Historical Society and the Conyers-Rockdale Council for the Arts. Well-known and respected among his peers and the citizens he served, few if any knew this gentle pillar of the community was a combat-hardened veteran of WWII.

A graduate of North Georgia College in 1940, Vaughn attended the University of Georgia from 1940 to 1943 where he earned an officers commission in the United States Army through their ROTC program. He'd eventually earn a bachelor of law degree at UGA in 1946, but in 1943 Uncle Sam needed men of Vaughn's caliber on the front lines of a raging global conflict.

In Vaughn's case, marriage was not put on hold. Before being deployed, Doris Henson accepted his proposal and the two tied the knot on June 14, 1943. By December of '43, Vaughn was aboard the Queen Mary sailing to Northern Ireland. In a letter dated Jan. 12, 1944, near Londonderry, Vaughn wrote Doris, "Ireland is not at war and their lights burn brightly."

But England and her allies were at war. Shipped out from Portsmouth on June 9, 1944, Vaughn landed on the beaches of Normandy three days after the Allied Invasion. His letters home were graphic, speaking of American soldiers stacked up like cords of wood before being thrown onto flatbed trucks.

The war letters he wrote to his wife are cherished family treasures, a living legacy of the love and affection shared by a husband and a spouse separated by an ocean and a world at war. Albeit, Vaughn seldom wrote or talked about his war experiences in detail before or after he came home.

What we do know of his wartime experiences tells a familiar story of the Greatest Generation; the men and women that simply did their duty, witnessed things they tried to forget, then came home to build the most productive and charitable country on Earth.

The few facts on record concerning Capt. Clarence R. Vaughn Jr. ring a liberty bell of bravery and commitment. He fought across France with a reconnaissance unit that was part of the 3rd Army commanded by ole' Blood and Guts, Gen. George Patton. In one incident, Capt. Vaughn offered Patton a salute as the general drove by, only to hear the gruff remark, "Captain, get that helmet on!"

We know, too, that Capt. Vaughn received the Bronze Star for valor, reaching a unit that had been cut off by the Germans for over a week. Asked how he had managed to get through the thick hedgerows of Normandy, Vaughn replied he'd ordered his men to lay down a steady volley of fire in order to press forward. Documentation indicates Capt. Vaughn was in steady combat from France to Germany and into Czechoslovakia until the end of the war. He finished his military service serving with the Judge Adjutant General Corps.

With permission from the Vaughn family, the following excerpts are from a letter Capt. Vaughn wrote to his wife, Doris, on April 11, 1945, while in Obernburg, Germany.

"My Darling Wife,

I always like to start the beginning of my letter talking about you, but today I have seen something that people back home and some over here cannot picture or believe ever existed. Today I saw the remains of one of the German Concentration Camps. Germans had vacated the camp only hours before we arrived. In this camp were about four or five hundred forced laborers, all dead but a very few. Most had been beaten to death.

Some lay stretched like cordwood, with lime over each layer to dampen the odor. Horses just fall down and die. The bodies were to be cremated, but I guess the Germans didn't have the time. Doris, it was all you've heard about such things; and much more.

The victims were men, women, and the children. Sex or age mattered very little.

Now I realize the real reason we fight, not to conquer, not to overpower, but for a higher power. A lot of soldiers saw this today, and I'm afraid it will be a different story now as we continue this war. I mean what I say; I wish every American could see what I've seen today."

Capt. Clarence R. Vaughn Jr. did his duty, returned home to continue his law studies at UGA, raised a family and served his community. A more familiar story could not be told of the Greatest Generation. They fought a world war; witnessed the death of 292,131 of their brothers and sisters, saw another 671,278 suffer horrifying wounds, and prayed for the 78,773 that were still missing. A few WWII veterans talk about their war, but most don't or can't, and with 900 of these patriots dying each and every day, we will fail to achieve the knowledge of their incredible stories. Sadly, that will also be our loss. Judge Vaughn passed away March 26, 2007.

Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist, and free-lance writer. He can be reached at: aveteransstory@gmail.com