Montford Point Marine Hymn
Lyrics by LaSalle R. Vaughn, a member of the Montford Point Marine Association Hall of Fame
LaSalle R. Vaughn was a Marine gunnery sergeant whose eyes could bore into you like a nail, and whose body was still taut as new rope when he died last Sunday at 88.
But everyone talks about his cinnamon rolls. Their sweet aroma would pull children into his kitchen from all over Sergeants Drive in Port Royal.
In 1943 he joined a U.S. Marine Corps that didn’t really want the feisty half African-American, half Native American from Baton Rouge, La. But he’d seen the sharp uniform with a red stripe down blue pants, and he insisted on joining the Marines.
His vision of what it would be like changed quickly when he was sent to the segregated boot camp for African-Americans at Montford Point, outside Camp Lejeune, N.C.
He was immensely proud to have served more than two decades. He was a steward and chef to seven generals, even preparing a meal for a U.S. president. But he said paving the road to integration was hell.
The Rev. James E. Moore, pastor of Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Dale and national chaplain of the Montford Point Marine Association, said: “I am convinced that had they failed — and there were many people who felt they would fail and wanted them to fail — I would not have been the first black sergeant major of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and Eastern Recruiting Region. I attribute that to what they went through and what they endured.”
Montford Point Marines were honored in June with the Congressional Gold Medal.
But it’s the corps within Vaughn’s own home — his fatherhood — that should be talked about most during his final salute.
“Lord knows we need in our society today positive examples of strong men who accept the responsibility to be the people we were created to be,” said Moore. “And when I say that, I mean first being fathers. I think fatherhood has been diminished in our society.”
LaSalle and Catherine Vaughn — who would have been married 66 years in December — had five boys and two girls.
The oldest, LaSalle II, is a retired Air Force officer who started and heads the 4,000-member New Life Christian Center church in San Antonio. The baby is Diane Vaughn Martin, an entrepreneur in Washington, D.C. Henry is a hospital administrator, Carey retired from the Metro transit authority in Washington, Charlie is a barber in Columbia and Rena’ Vaughn Atkinson is an attorney and entrepreneur.
Closest to home is Staff Sgt. Anthony Vaughn, who has been with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office for 21 years.
He knows a dad who could cook anything, who always dressed to the nines, had a closet full of suits and starched shirts, and a love for $400 cowboy boots and big Western hats.
Anthony knows a dad who in retirement worked for the Economic Opportunity Commission, and led a program to help older men in Beaufort learn to read and write and keep a checkbook.
When baby Diane wanted to go to school like everybody else, “Sarge” and Catherine Vaughn built her a school. It became a business known as the Little People’s College & Nursery, and for 30 years it served hundreds of local children.
Anthony Vaughn knows a dad who was a pillar of the Old Fort Baptist Church in Port Royal.
And he knows the sayings of his father will never quit ringing in his ears.
‘Your name is Vaughn’
• “I will not have you boys being dragged up, I’m going to raise you up.”
• “If you do anything to tarnish the name of your mother and father, I will run you out of this town.”
• “You love God first, then love your wife, then your family.”
• “Money don’t make a person. Character and integrity make a person.”
• “Integrity is what you do when you know nobody is looking.”
• “God is always watching you. He will let you know when you do something wrong.”
• “Your name is Vaughn, boy.”
• “I don’t want any wimpy boys who can’t make a decision, run out on their wife, or run in the streets. You are to have one woman, forever. Yeah, me and your mama argued. You have good days and bad days. But you never hit and you never degrade.”
LaSalle Vaughn held a family meeting every week. He went over what their name meant, how they were to operate, and the chain of command: “God, me, Mama, and you children.”
He built a room for the boys with five military bunks, each with a foot locker. They shined the oak floor every day. The room was inspected weekly by their dad.
He told his boys he went through hell in the Marine Corps. “But I always wanted to be a Marine,” he said, “and I was never a quitter.”
Anthony Vaughn now savors all the lectures, arguments and room inspections. He’s finding them sweeter than cinnamon rolls.
Follow columnist David Lauderdale on Twitter.