Skip to comments.At Memorial, Sgt. Gene Vance Jr. Honored for Service to State, Nation
Posted on 05/27/2002 2:37:30 AM PDT by jrewingjr
"He was a proud person, but quiet"
MORGANTOWN - Those who knew him said Staff Sgt. Gene Vance Jr., 38, would have graciously declined any attention for his efforts in the war on terrorism. Still, West Virginians wanted to honor one of their own in a big way.
On Sunday, Mountaineers gathered at the West Virginia University Mountainlair Ballroom to honor the first West Virginia National Guardsman to die in the line of duty since World War II.
"He wouldn't have wanted all this," Sgt. 1st Class Richard Vanhoose said of Sunday's memorial. "He didn't go into the glory of news and stuff. He was a proud person, but a quiet person."
Vanhoose accompanied Vance's body from Germany, where it was taken after Vance was killed by suspected al-Qaida or Taliban forces in Afghanistan a week ago.
Vanhoose said the trip from Germany was, at times, difficult.
"I'm a soldier. I try not to get emotionally down," he said. "I did get teary-eyed."
Many people at Sunday's service were teary-eyed as they listened to Gov. Bob Wise, Sen. Jay Rockefeller and Adjutant Gen. Allen Tackett, leader of the state's National Guard.
"[Vance] was a quiet man, a dedicated soldier willing to go fight for our freedom," Tackett said.
Vance's fellow soldiers from the Kenova-based 19th Special Forces Airborne stood at attention at both sides of the closed casket adorned with an American flag. The soldiers quietly performed the changing of the guard at the casket several times during Sunday's ceremony.
Wise told the nearly 800 people gathered Sunday that after Sept. 11, many West Virginians asked if the war on terrorism would touch the Mountain State.
"It just has," Wise said. "This time, the fallen was not an unsuspecting victim, but a determined soldier. "We grieve for this fallen soldier," he said. "It is his uncommon valor that permits us our common routines."
Vance was honored Sunday with several awards, including the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the Legion of Merit. He received the West Virginia Distinguished Service Medal and was promoted to staff sergeant during Sunday's ceremony.
He was also honored with an honorary bachelor's degree from WVU. Vance had accumulated enough hours to be a senior before he withdrew from classes after Sept. 11.
"No posthumous award can reflect the true depth of respect we feel for our fellow Mountaineer," WVU President David Hardesty said. "This university will remember Sergeant Vance's life and the ideals he represents. What he means to us is that the actions of one person can make a difference and we all have it within us to be a patriot if we but believe in America."
West Virginians, and all Americans, owe Vance and all the men and women who have fought in wars a great debt, Rockefeller said.
Americans enjoy their freedoms only because of men like Vance, he said.
"He is truly our hero," Rockefeller said. "God bless you, Sergeant Vance."
Vance, married for only five months, displayed his selflessness when he was called to duty, said Chaplain Randall Kochersperger. He put his dreams - a honeymoon - and his interests - bicycling and backpacking - on hold to help protect the nation.
"He made the supreme sacrifice to his nation," Kochersperger said. "He came face to face with the horror and reality of war."
Vance was always a selfless man, the chaplain said. Many people told Kochersperger that they bought their first bicycle from Vance, who helped manage Whitetail Bicycle and Fitness Center.
Clarksburg resident Bill Foster didn't purchase a bicycle from Vance or know him personally, but he attended Sunday's ceremony, wearing his cycling gear. "I have a lot of friends in the cycling community in town. They all know him," Foster said. "I felt like I should be here as a cyclist."
Friends learned more about Vance's military career in his death than in life. Outside the military, they said, Vance was a quiet man who enjoyed a cup of coffee at the Blue Moose Cafe in the mornings. They knew he liked surf guitar legend Dick Dale and enjoyed bicycling, but few knew he could speak Farsi.
A 1981 graduate of Oceana High School, Vance went on to study basic and advanced individual training at Fort Gordon, Ga. He joined the Army Reserve as a supply specialist in the 646th Quartermaster Company in Kingwood in January 1992. In October of the same year, he joined the 19th Special Forces.
After the memorial service, Morgantown resident Anita Windon rang the bell from the USS West Virginia 21 times in Vance's honor.
Wise presented a West Virginia flag to Vance's widow, Lisa, his mother, June, and his daughter, Amber. Lisa Vance bent over the flag and cried, then brought the flag to her lips.
A private viewing for friends and family will be held today from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. On Tuesday, Vance will receive full military rites at an 11 a.m. service at East Oak Grove Cemetery. The family requests that Tuesday's events be private.
Lisa Vance (left) widow of Sgt. Gene Vance Jr., who was killed May 19 while on patrol in eastern Afghanistan, embraces a West Virginia state flag presented to her during a public memorial service Sunday in Morgantown. At right is Sgt. Vance's mother, June Vance of North Carolina.
No greater love does a man have than this, that he would lay down his life for others. Gene Vance has earned the privledge to be on the honor roll of our greatest heroes, the ones who always say in time of sacrifice, "Let's Roll".
Always honor and take care of Gene Vance's family.
Rest in the knowledge that Gene Vance is with Jesus Christ and will be with us again soon.
God Bless you, Sergeant Vance.
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