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San Diego Soldier Known for His Heart Killed in Iraq

Richard Vaughn's dad was a sailor and his grandfather was a Marine. But an interest in tanks drew him to the Army. On April 7, on the first patrol of his second tour in Iraq, his Baghdad convoy was enveloped in a firefight and he was killed by hostile forces.

Vaughn, 22, known as Ricky, was born in Los Angeles but attended high school in San Diego, where he played football and wrestled.

"He wasn't a stellar athlete, but he had a heart the size of the entire state," said Steve Stone, Vaughn's coach at Junipero Serra High School.

Vaughn was assigned to an armored unit of the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas. He turned into a hard-charging overachiever, becoming a sergeant in four years and mastering the workings of his tank.

"Ricky took his job seriously, but he didn't take much else seriously," said his mother, Jenni Vaughn.

His father, James Vaughn, said his son suffered nightmares after his first tour in 2006, when four of his buddies died trapped in the back of a burning Bradley fighting vehicle. The younger Vaughn warned his family to prepare for the worst before he left again.

"He made us promise it wouldn't ruin our lives," James Vaughn said. "I don't know how that's going to work out."

The sergeant was returned to San Diego in a flag-draped coffin and was buried with full military honors on April 17.

"Richard's courage and unyielding loyalty remind all Californians of the sacrifices made to protect democracy and keep us safe. We will honor and cherish the memory of this brave Californian forever," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement.

Vaughn joined the military in November 2003 as an M1 Armor Crewman and was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division since April 2004. He last deployed in March 2008.

Vaughn's parents plan to scatter his ashes in the surf at La Jolla on his birthday, July 19.

His wife, Rachelle, is due to deliver their first child in December. They married in January.

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