World War II veteran remembers serving on Meredith

Vaughn W. Collicott

Contributed Photo Vaughn Collicott served aboared the USS Meredith DD726 during World War II.

The sun was shining as I headed to Home Plate Café to have breakfast with Vaughn Collicott, World War II Navy veteran.

We ordered our breakfast and chatted while drinking coffee. Mr. Collicott brought with him memorabilia including medals, pictures, his honorable discharge papers, and a letter he sent to the deputy director of naval history giving his personal recollection of the bombing of the Meredith.

Vaughn was born in Nebraska on Oct. 18, 1923. When he was one year old, his family, which consisted of his parents, two sisters and three brothers, traveled by covered wagon with a caravan of two other families. They settled in Walworth County.

Vaughn recently lost his wife of 70½ years, Doris. Their daughter, Diana, lives in Edgerton. They lost a son to liver cancer.

Vaughn enlisted in the United States Navy. It was wartime. His three brothers, Marlin, Donald and Melvin, all served in the military, too. I couldn’t help but think about how proud their parents must have been.

During Vaughn’s service to his country, his time was spent on four ships. The Gibbons was an Army transport ship, the Foot was a freighter, the USS Meredith DD726 was a destroyer and the SS Lanier was an artillery attack ship.

Vaughn served on the Meredith during the Normandy invasion. Vaughn was a seaman first class while serving on the ship. After attending 30 days of fire control training, his daily job was to check the firing circuits of the 5-inch guns.

On March 14, 1944, the ship was commissioned by Robert Montgomery, navy officer (also actor). After the commissioning, the ship was loaded with ammunition and proceeded to Bermuda Islands for the shakedown cruise along with four other destroyers. During the next 30 days, all the guns were tested, torpedoes, depth chargers; everything was in good working order.

Vaughn commented, “On May 27, 1944, we reached Plymouth, England. We sat there for several days waiting for our assignment. During that time, our captain, Commander George Kauspfer, talked with us over the speaker. He said he wanted everyone to write letters home.

Vaughn continued, “During the evening on June 7, 1944, we went into the middle of the English channel on screening duty in support of Tuscaloosa, a cruiser. At around 1:52 a.m., I heard someone yell, ‘Here comes a plane.’ I turned the transfer switch on the computer to designate anti-aircraft shells in preparation for the order to fire.

“I heard the plane fly over the ship from port to starboard. At that time, the order was given to fire, but before that could happen, a gigantic explosion took place,” Vaughn continued. “It only takes 11 seconds for a plane to come over the horizon, drop a bomb and be gone.”

The bomb landed on the port side which exploded the steam boiler showering the whole ship with water. Vaughn added, “The next thing I knew, the captain came on the loud speaker and told us to abandon ship. I jumped off the bow and landed on the stern of the USS Bates destroyer escort. I was given food and then found I was on the same ship as the captain and other shipmates.”

At sunrise, on June 8, the captain asked for volunteers to go back on the ship to retrieve bodies and ammunition. He told the sailors, “All I have to say is that they were your buddies.”

Vaughn told me he was one of the volunteers. We sat quietly. The pain in his eyes told me he was remembering, and I cannot even imagine how a young man only 20 years old could handle such a task.

There were four ships named after an honored Marine, Jonathon Meredith. Vaughn served on the third one. Fifty-eight years after the war, Vaughn and his wife attended a Meredith reunion held in San Diego, California, where he met with other World War II veterans.

Vaughn had high praise for former Veteran Service Officer Jim Henning. Vaughn had never received his medals, and Henning told him he would get them for him, and he did.

Vaughn is 94 years old, but his memory is absolutely amazing. To him, he was visiting with me to share his World War II experiences. To me, the real story was not the war itself. The real story was sitting across from me.

It is not the football players, politicians or actors who are to be cheered and honored. Our veterans are the real heroes who won something much bigger than a Super Bowl, Grammy or Academy Award. They won our freedom.

Vaughn would be happy to meet and visit with other veterans, particularly World War II veterans. He lives in the Keshena area and can be reached at 715-799-3180.

Question: Name the supper club located 1 mile from downtown Shawano on Highway 29 West (1991). (Answer on Page A5.)

Clothesline Conversation Answer: Sally’s Sunset Supper Club

Lorna Marquardt is a former mayor of Shawano.