Vance AFB Relocation Guide 2019-2020 - Page 19

HOMETOWN HERO Leon Robert Vance Vance Air Force Base is named for an American war hero who was born in Enid and loved the outdoor activities that boys and men still love about northwest Oklahoma today. His father was a popular Enid teacher and principal who also had a love of flying. Leon Robert “Bob” Vance, junior, graduated from Enid High and headed to the University of Oklahoma for two years before entering West Point on July 1, 1935. He excelled in his classes and graduated in 1939. He went on to train young pilots at multiple air fields stateside before he too was shipped to England and began training for the invasion of Europe that was inevitable – it was going to happen but the questions were when and where. Vance had been promoted to Lieu- tenant Colonel in September 1943, after little more than four years of service. He was assigned to the 489th Bombardment Group in December 1943 and was in England by April 1944. Vance led the group May 30, 1944, on its first combat mission. On June 5, 1944, he led the 489th on their second combat mission which was a diversionary attack against the Germans near Wimeraux, France. The group experienced heavy artillery fire and they were further hampered by a bomb that did not clear the bomb bay doors. The second pass over the target was suc- cessful and the targets were hit but the B-24 was hit repeatedly by enemy fire; the pilot was killed and Vance was severely wounded, his right foot was being held only by the Achilles tendon and was wedged in the framework on the flight deck behind the pilot and co-pilot seats. He was able to help the co-pilot shut off the damaged engines but the fuel lines were leaking and it was a chaotic scene. The co-pilot got the plane leveled off and headed toward the English coast. Vance ordered all crew members to bail out. There were several other members of the crew who were also injured and they were helped out of the aircraft that had lost 3 of its 4 engines. Vance stayed with the aircraft, mistakenly thinking that one crew member was still on board. He flew the bomber using the ailerons and elevators from a prone position, using a side window to maintain a visual reference. The “ditch” in the Eng- lish Channel was rough and Vance thought he was going to drown but there was an unexplained explosion that blew him free of the plane and he managed to swim about 45 minutes before he was rescued by an RAF rescue vehicle. He was looking for the crew member that he mistakenly thought was still on board. After the crew was reunited he realized the mistake that had been made in the garbled com- munications of the moment. After receiving treatment in the United Kingdom, he looked forward to being back in the States with his wife Georgette and baby daughter Sharon. He was aboard a Douglas C-54 Skymaster medical evacuation aircraft that disappeared on July 26, 1944. The plane went down between Iceland and Newfoundland and was never recovered. It was the only medevac aircraft lost during World War II. For his heroism he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously on October 11, 1946 at Enid Army Air Base. The medal was given to his daughter when she was only four years old. On July 9, 1949, the Enid Army Air Base was renamed Vance Air Force Base in his honor. 19