BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – When military personnel are discharged or retire, their uniforms are often an afterthought. Many will sit in storage for years then make their way to second-hand stores, garage sales or they may even be sold online.
Jerry Vaughan says they deserve respect.
The Navy veteran has collected hundreds of uniforms just to keep them out of the hands of people who didn’t serve, storing them in a nondescript storefront in Brevard County.
“Nothing in here is for sale,” Vaughan said pointing to row after row of dress uniforms hanging on racks, some going back to World War II.
“See the one with the blue star?” Vaughan said, pointing to a wool Army jacket. “That guy was in World War II. Do you understand how much he had to go through to get a rank of sergeant?”
The olive drab coat on the upper rack is a fitting example of what drives Vaughan to protect all this fabric.
“They don’t just give these ranks away. You have to earn that stuff,” he said with reverence.
He calls the collection, The Dover Detail, and it’s an offshoot of his nonprofit called Down the Road Thrift. The thrift store he owns in Cocoa helps homeless and newly housed veterans with their homeware and camping needs.
[UPDATE: Down the Road Thrift and The Dover Detail are in the process of moving to 3452 S. Hopkins Ave. in Titusville.]
Vaughan continually gets donations connected to military service, everything from uniforms to awards. He realized other stores were probably getting similar donations and they were being sold as costumes or novelty.
That’s when he started searching out for more of the vintage uniforms.
“At first it was just simply getting them off the streets. Not allowing them to be sold or misused.” Vaughan remembered. “I’ve left the price tags on some of them just as a reminder that we’re not where we should be as far as the proper use and disposal of uniforms.”
Vaughan compares his rental space to a giant closet. He has stacks of camouflage outfits. The long pants and shirts, he says, are ideal for homeless veterans living in the woods. He has no problems giving them away to the people who need them.
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But the dress uniforms are reserved for The Dover Detail. It’s named after the U.S. Air Force base in Delaware, the first stop for soldiers who die overseas.
“If you’re military, you know what I’m talking about,” Vaughan said. “It’s out of respect for the people who work there.”
Vaughan stood over a table putting the final touches on a World War II-era Navy dress blue uniform.
The “Cracker Jack” uniform is just like the one Philip Bradstreet wore when he was stationed aboard the USS Astoria.
“He was a wonderful human being. He led a full life and one of the last things he did was ask me to track him down a uniform so that when he went out he could go out the way he wanted to,” Vaughan explained.
The Dover Detail is Vaughan’s effort to provide period correct uniforms to veterans and their families for memorials and funerals.
“This is the last physical honor that we can pay to a service member before they leave this plane. So why not do it right?” Vaughan said.
Vaughan pieced the uniform together from sources in Georgia and New York.
Cynthia Bradstreet sat in her living room days before her husband’s funeral, remembering how he always wore Navy hats and t-shirts.
“He was very proud of his service,” Cynthia Bradstreet said. “This is what he wanted.”
Philip Bradstreet was proud of his service and as he was laid to rest in an east Orlando chapel, that’s how he was remembered.
“I know Phil is smiling down on us,” Cynthia Bradstreet said.
Vaughan continues to support veterans this holiday season, handing out dozens of Christmas trees, decorated by the Federated Republican Women of Brevard. Ornaments for the trees came from his thrift stores. Vaughan says he plans to continue the effort annually.
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