When faced with a dilemma, Kenneth Vaughan Sr. strategized and figured out a solution, whether he was playing a game of chess with his grandson or stranded on the side of the Long Island Expressway.
In the latter scenario, he examined his car, hitched a ride to an auto-parts store, bought a carburetor, then returned to his car and installed it, even though he’d never read an auto repair book.
“It was unbelievable the things that he could do,” his wife, Georgina Vaughan, said. “He had it all right up there in his brain; it was innate.”
Vaughan, a Vietnam veteran and longtime West Islip resident, died Nov. 15 at the Northport VA Medical Center after a long illness. He was 71.
The Bronx native graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School in 1964 and two years later was drafted into the Army.
Vaughan was sent to Cambodia as part of the 4th Infantry Division. In April 1967, he was blown down a 25-foot ravine and suffered spinal and other wounds, his wife said. Later that year, he would receive additional shrapnel injuries.
In 1968, he was sent to Fort Hood, Texas, but weeks later he was sent to Chicago to respond to the riots that followed the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He was upset with the order, his wife said.
“He had just spent 10 months in the jungle and now he was having to use hand-to-hand combat on his fellow countrymen,” she said.
Vaughan received two Purple Hearts and Bronze Stars, the National Defense Service Medal and the Vietnam Service Medal. He was discharged in August 1968 and the following year met his future wife in Manhattan. They had three children, moving to West Islip in 1978.
While primarily a mechanic, Vaughan also worked as a welder whose jobs included a number of skyscrapers, including the World Trade Center, his wife said. He stopped working in 1998 because of a disability.
Vaughan, who suffered from PTSD and lasting pain from his war wounds, was proud to have served his country, she said, but he struggled with anger and anguish over what he had experienced.
Still, Vaughan found happiness. He loved to read and would devour history books. A devoted family man, he took his wife and children on trips to Disney World and Cooperstown and coached his son’s Little League team. He watched Yankees games and cheered on his favorite player, Don Mattingly. And he found serenity at Robert Moses beach, even if he was just sitting in his car in the Field 5 parking lot, breathing in the salty air.
“It gave him peace there,” his wife said.
In addition to his wife, Vaughan is survived by son Kenneth Vaughan of Islip; daughters Kristen Vaughan of Halesite and Kerri Fontaine of East Islip; sister Maureen Vaughan of Saddle River, New Jersey; brothers John Vaughan and Peter Vaughan of Fairview, New Jersey; and four grandsons. Vaughan’s remains were cremated and interred at Calverton National Cemetery.