Monday, December 29, 2008


As I've noted in other posts, my dad, Jim Vaughn, passed away on December 6, 2008.

The day before that, Friday, December 5, Billy Tucci's Sgt. Rock: The Lost Battalion was profiled by the Air Force Times and the other military newspapers in a feature article by Chris Lawson, Staff Writer. The article provided me the subject of the last lengthy conversation I would have with my dad, and it was a fun one.

My father was never much of a comic book guy. For the most part, he never really gave me any grief about collecting them, but he didn't really get why I was so into them either. He could much more readily relate to my brother Scott's military career (he was a former USAF guy himself), but this didn't really have any impact on our relationship that I ever detected. He was more interested in my brother and I as people than what we did for a living anyway.

Dad had been in the travel industry for most of his post Air Force working days, and I had an upbringing steeped in it. We traveled like people with money and saw the world. The travel was amazing, but he really wanted to make sure we understood the nuts and bolts of the business, too. He took a great deal of his identity from his work and wanted to share that with us.

That said, it wasn't that he never read comics. As a kid, in the days before antibiotics, Dad had Scarlet Fever. It kept him out of school and mostly in bed for a year when was about 10 or 11 (this is one of those moments when I'd love to just pick up the phone and ask him for some clarification...). During that time he read comics. Marvel Comics #1, Human Torch #1, some others that are now worth some serious money.

He remembered throwing them away.

Long before I witnessed the transaction in which the Pay Copy of Marvel #1 sold for $350,000 or wrote about many other record prices, he was busy helping create those record prices by shrinking the supply. Thinking about him tossing away those prizes made my head spin the first time I found out about it. Of course, that's why the things are so pricey these days to start with. So few copies survived.

That was about the limit of Dad's comic book exposure until I picked up the bug while I was sick with my first real go-around with heavy duty allergies at age 11. As I progressed as a collector, he would good naturedly listen to me, but none of it took. That's just how it was.

As I became a professional, first writing about comics and then writing them, he really only seemed to care about two things: Did I love what I was doing, and was I any good at it?

Even in his late 70s, my father never lost his curiosity. He read voraciously, including the online editions of many newspapers, particularly those from the UK. If he came across the obituary of someone from the entertainment world, I could count on a telephone quiz about them. If it was someone from the comic book world specifically, I would be expected to know even more (he was generally pleased with the results, I should point out).

After a week in which I talked to him just about every day and had enjoyable chats, that Friday morning I called him and told him to check his email. I had sent him the link to the Air Force Times story about Billy's Sgt. Rock. By this point he knew that I didn't have anything to do with the series other than really enjoying the tremendous effort Billy was putting forth for it, so he might have just skimmed the article. Instead, I told him to make sure he read all of it.

In the feature, Billy talked about his interaction with the real life members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the American-born Japanse who weren't allowed to serve in the Pacific Theater during World War II and ended up as the most decorated unit in Army history. It was something Dad had told me about many times growing up. He had been pleased when, through Billy, I met several of the gentlemen-heroes at the San Diego convention this past summer.

“It was the honor of my life to have lived, followed and been awed by these great men who dream not of conquest but of getting back home alive,” Billy was quoted as writing in Sgt. Rock: The Lost Battalion #1. “Master Sergeant Frank Rock, 300 Moore Ave., Pittsburgh, PA, is one such man. And within every ‘GI’ the world over, there is a Sergeant Rock.”

That was it! That was what I wanted my father to read. I knew he wouldn't read the comic, but here it was in an article...

Back when Billy was traveling all over Europe and researching the real-life elements of his story, he had asked during one of our regular phone calls where Sgt. Rock would be from.

After first suggesting "1060 West Addison, Chicago, Illinois," (Wriggley Field, a Blues Brothers movie reference), I suggested Pittsburgh, my home town. Billy asked what kind of address I could get there. I gave him 300 Moore Avenue.

That was my grandparents' house, the home my dad grew up in. It wasn't any big deal, but Dad knew that I never stopped trying to connect him to what I did for a living. We talked about it briefly as I filled in some more of the context for him. He didn't have to say a lot to let me know that he both genuinely appreciated the sentiment and the weird comic book enshrinement.

We talked a bit longer and then that conversation ended. I spoke with him again very briefly that night, but I had called to talk to my mom, so that was it.

As last conversations, it wasn't anything profound, but it was honest, real and heartfelt.

Then then next day he was gone.

There are so many things I could say about my father, his deep faith, his kindness, his stupid temper, his awful sense of humor (which he left me, by the way), his love of travel, his intense dislike of those who misused the language, his patriotic spirit, his love of aviation and disdain for most of the management and unions in the airline business today, and his tremendous capacity for laughter... but in this one single instance, for that one moment, he was a comic book guy.

And that remains a pretty sweet moment for me. Thanks, Pop.

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