Vance -- Lt Col Leon R Vance Jr

Medal of Honor recipient, WWII

Medal of Honor recipient, WWII

 

Leon Vance went to high school in his hometown and graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in June 1939. He was in the Infantry briefly but took flying training at Tulsa, Okla., and Randolph and Kelly Fields, Texas, getting his wings in June 1940.

He was assigned at Randolph as a flying instructor and promoted to first lieutenant in September 1940. In February 1941, he went to Goodfellow Field at San Angelo, Texas, as a squadron commander. In April 1942, he was promoted to captain and in July advanced to major. That December, he went to Strother Field, Kan., as Director of Flying for nine months. Colonel Vance next attended four-engine transition training at Fort Worth, Texas.

In September 1943, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and assigned to Wendover Field, Utah as Deputy commander of the 489th Bomb Group, which he helped train and take to Europe in April 1944. On his second mission, while leading his bomb group against the enemy, on June 5, Colonel Vance was severely wounded in action over Wimereaux, France, suffering a traumatic amputation of the right foot from enemy aircraft fire.

For conspicuous gallantry on that mission he was awarded the Medal of Honor. The citation, in part, describes what happened "...Approaching the target his aircraft was hit repeatedly by antiaircraft fire which seriously crippled the ship, killed the pilot, and wounded several members of the crew including Col. Vance, whose right foot was practically severed. Despite his injury, and with three engines lost to the flak, he led his formation over the target, bombing it successfully. After applying a tourniquet to his leg, he realized the ship was approaching a stall altitude with the one remaining engine failing. He struggled to a semi-upright position beside the copilot and took over the controls. Cutting the power and feathering the last engine, he put the aircraft in a glide sufficiently steep to maintain his airspeed. Gradually losing altitude he at last reached the English coast and ordered all members of the crew to bail out, knowing they would make land safely. But he received a message over the interphone system which led him to believe that one of the crew members was unable to jump because of injuries; so he made the decision to ditch the ship in the channel thereby giving this man a chance for life. He made a successful ditching while lying on the floor using only aileron and elevators for control and the side window of the cockpit for sight. On coming to rest in the water, the aircraft commenced to sink rapidly with Colonel Vance pinned in the cockpit by the upper turret which had crashed in during the landing. As it was settling beneath the waves an explosion occurred which threw Colonel Vance clear of the wreckage. After clinging to a piece of floating wreckage until he could muster sufficient strength to inflate his life vest he began a search for the crew member whom he believed to be aboard. Failing to find anyone, he began swimming and was found approximately 50 minutes later by an air sea rescue craft."

While being evacuated to the United States, the aircraft on which Colonel Vance was a passenger went down somewhere between Iceland and Newfoundland on July 26, 1944, and no trace of it was ever found. On July 7, 1949, Enid Army Air Base, Okla. was redesignated Vance AFB in his honor.

See the
full citation at the Congressional Medal of Honor Socitety website.