World War II Veteran: Donald R. Vaughn (Don)

Time Frame: ca. 1940's

Don Vaughn of Ottumwa, Iowa talks about his training after being drafted in the Army in March, 1943 and his service in Europe as Staff Sergeant in the coast artillery and field artillery.

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Vaughn: We got into Camp Tilmer, New Jersey ready to go to New York, we went to New York and the USO and the captain’s wife were nice enough to invite us six guys to Thanksgiving dinner the next day. The only thing is when we went back to camp they loaded us up on an English ship and on Thanksgiving Day that we were supposed to be at the woman’s house we were going by the Statue of Liberty heading for Europe. And so we landed in England and our guns got lost, 155 Hollisters, and they finally found them and they got us lined up and we went to France. And our first time in battle we were a lone outfit, we were 760 field artillery, we didn’t belong to anybody, they didn’t want us. But anyway, our first deal was we went into Dern, Germany with the first army, General Bradley, the English was on the left and Patton was on the right. And the first night out we got greeted by bed check Charlie. Now, that was your German plane that come in after dark and dropped bombs with its scouter. And we never knew that damage we had done, we never got to see any of our work and then we kept going and we landed up into across the Rhine River and we were shooting across the Rhine River into Cologne, Germany. And they told us we were picking off a train, a supply train. Like I say, we never knew what we hit or anything. Then they pulled us out, we wanted to get across the Rhine, you know what, we never made it. We come back down behind Patton, down to the seventh army whose infantry, the seventh army was going to have a big push. We never fired a shot. They bring us back to the first army and we finally get close to the Rhine River. Being an artillery outfit we weren’t supposed to pick up prisoners but one night we picked up 105 Germans, they were ready to give up. Now, there’s a lesson to this. One of the gentlemen, Germans could speak perfect English, found out he was a professor in one of the schools. One of our guys said how come you guys always want to start a fight? His answer was, did you ever hear of the Gestapo? That’s the reason we fight. One of our guys said, did you ever hear of the draft board? That’s the reason we’re over here. The point is the German people didn’t want anything more to do with the war than we did. But our leaders in all these different countries forced the citizens from the different countries into it. I think whatever country they just want to have peace and quiet but the powers that be changed their mind.

What kept you going from day to day? What kept you fighting, going out there?

Vaughn: I tell you, the day that Pearl Harbor was hit I was madder than heck, that made me made. And nobody wanted to go to war but when I went to my examination I was so happy I passed it. And when you get into them outfits you’re close knitted, you are really knitted. And the funny problem was we didn’t worry it was going to happen to us. We knew our families back here in the United States were safe. You can’t say that now. So, we had some narrow escapes but the funny part was we never figured we were going to get killed. I don’t know why but it didn’t worry us. There were some nights that we were a little nervous, you know, the Germans get a little careless with those shells. What else would you like to know?

Were you ever wounded?

Vaughn: No, by the grace of God I didn’t get hurt. And we got across the Rhine River and we spent three years in the army. And this one guy said it wouldn’t last more than a year because he hadn’t had a job any longer than that in his life. Three years later he said he did an awful job, they wouldn’t fire him and he couldn’t quit. So, it didn’t hurt me. I felt sorry for the infantry boys. Them infantry boys, I tell you, I had a lot of respect for them because they really had it rough. What else would you like to know?

When was the time when you were most worried? You said you never felt like you were going to get killed but when was the time when you got close?

Vaughn: Well, if I remember right they called them buzz bombs. The Germans would send them over and as long as you could hear the motor you were alright. But if the motor quit you took for the foxhole. That would scare you because all of a sudden you hear just like a car coming. That’s a buzz bomb. When that motor quit it was coming down. As long as the motor kept running but once the motor quit you dug into the foxholes. The first night out bed check Charlie was giving us some heck and there was a factory over here and a big piece of steel …

Would you start that over again?

Vaughn: Yeah, bed check Charlie come over and there was a factory here and we went over and there was a big piece of steel and I can remember crouching under that for three or four hours, me and another guy, because those because those bombs he didn’t know where he was hitting but, you know, he kind of had an idea where people were. And then bombs would come down and explode like that.

Have you had a chance to see some of the guys you served with?

Vaughn: Yes, we had reunions here in Ottumwa and we had reunions in Decorah, Iowa and we had one in Davenport. And these fellas that we were with were from all over the United States, every type of person, the Polaks, Texans, from the Bronx, Chicago and then we had a little reunion here and the guys would come back from Washington state, Florida and we’d have a couple days reunion. Now, I’d say that 75% of them are no longer with us.

You said you were well knit. Tell me about that. What does that mean?

Vaughn: You’re family. In other words, we’d done our job, we knew what we had to do and we worked together. And we were all friends because after all back in those days we were men. All we wanted to do is get them Germans taken care of and when the war ended they were supposed to bring us back and send us to Japan. Well, in the meantime Japan was defeated. So, I didn’t have any bravery, you know what I mean, we was all – we had a few boys killed but not in the infantry – the infantry had it really tough, I felt sorry for them. They lost more men in one day than what they were losing over in Korea, you know, in four years – that media wasn’t over there marking down everybody that got killed. Ernie Pile, I remember, I saw his grave in Honolulu. He was a gentleman. I never had the honor to meet Omar Bradley, Bradley of the first army, and old Ike Eisenhower, you know. But after the war we took over a supply depot. Can you imagine artillery taking over a supply depot? That’s where the food – we had a German PO camp here, the Germans come in and took care of the dishwashing, we had three cooks and two bakers that Eisenhower had and never stuck to the menu. Our officers said as long as we didn’t eat better than they did. So, I’d go and get the stuff and we didn’t have stew or anything. Like one night we had ham and eggs – well, the Easterner says, that’s breakfast. We had ham and eggs for supper, you know, instead of the stew. But these Germans, one of them was named Pete, he hadn’t seen his family for nine years, didn’t know nothing about them. Like I say, we knew our families back in the United States were safe. We can’t say that now. Of course, it’s a different situation. But any time, with these rockets, they can get us. So, really it’s no longer the front line, everything is the front line now.


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