In June, Aaron Vaughn and his wife cherished their all-too-brief time together when the Navy SEAL was home for the birth of their daughter.
On Tuesday, Vaughn will return home for the final time. He was part of a group of 30 Americans, including 22 Navy SEALs, who were killed by Taliban fighters in Afghanistan on Saturday. It is the highest single-day amount of U.S. casualties in Afghanistan, the most since 16 soldiers were killed on June 28, 2005.
Vaughn’s wife, Kimberly, and his parents, Billy and Karen, spoke with TODAY’s Matt Lauer on Monday, remembering a husband and son who loved God, his country and his family. Kimberly was particularly grateful for the short time they had together in June for the birth of their daughter, Chamberlyn.
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“It was wonderful,’’ she told Lauer after expressing her condolences to the families of the other fallen soldiers. “As much as these men are gone away from their families over hundreds of days of the year, [it’s important] that we make the most of our time together, and we were blessed to be together for the birth of our children. Aaron was an amazing father, and I’m proud that I will get to carry on his legacy through our children.’’
The 30-year-old, who was based in Virginia Beach, Va., leaves behind two children, Chamberlyn and 2-year-old son Reagan, both of whom he was able to witness being born while home from overseas. The member of the secretive and elite SEAL Team Six was also remembered as a deeply religious man who loved the United States.
“I’m most proud of Aaron’s humility and nobility, but more than anything I’m most proud of the way he loved God and how important his faith was to him,’’ his mother said. “Everything he did was secret, and it just feels really strange right now, that only in his death can we celebrate who he was in his life. It’s a very difficult concept to understand, but Aaron would want everybody to know most is that he loved America. He believed America could be great again, and he fought for the America he grew up in.’’Video: Mom of fallen SEAL: 'I'm so proud of my son' (on this page)
From the time he was a child, Vaughn had his sights set on becoming a Navy SEAL and serving his country.
“After 9/11, Aaron told me and his mother he wanted to be a SEAL, and he said he wanted to ever since he was a little boy,’’ his father said. “He felt, and so did the other members of his team, that the very existence of our republic is at stake, and because of that, Aaron was willing to give his life.’’
Vaughn boarded a Chinook helicopter Saturday as part of a 30-man contingent of reinforcements called in during a firefight with the Taliban about 60 miles southwest of Kabul. After the reinforcements had turned the tide of the battle, a Taliban fighter fired a rocket-propelled grenade into the helicopter from about 150 yards away, sending it crashing into a valley by a river bank. The Chinook burst into flames, according to witnesses.
Twenty-two of the casualties were members of the elite SEAL Team Six, a 300-member fighting force that was responsible for the killing of Osama bin Laden. None of the SEAL Team Six members who were directly involved in bin Laden’s death were killed in the Chinook. Eight Taliban fighters were killed and four escaped, according to an estimate by Taliban leaders.
The remains of the soldiers are expected to arrive at Dover Air Force Base on Tuesday for the traditional transfer ceremony before they will be brought to their respective homes for the final time.
“These men are national treasures,’’ former Navy SEAL Ryan McCombie told NBC News. “They’re irreplaceable. You don’t find them everywhere, so this was a tragedy for the entire country.’’
“Their deaths are a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices made by the men and women of our military and their families, including all who have served in Afghanistan,’’ President Obama said in a statement.
While the Vaughns have lost their son, they remain believers in the mission of the United States and know that there was nothing else Aaron would rather have done with his life.
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“We’re a very patriotic family,’’ Karen Vaughn said. “We believe that America will be on its feet again and a country that the rest of the world looks to as a leader. We’re just really sad about this huge loss. We’re really sad that our son is gone, but we know that he would have done it all again.’’
As for Kimberly, she is left with two children too young to fully understand the profound loss, but she will tell them the story of their heroic father.
“They will take away his love for Christ,’’ Kimberly said tearfully about her children. “They will take away his strength and his love for this country. And they will know what an amazing man he [was].’’
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