The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

August 23, 2009

Enid native Vance to be inducted into military hall of fame

The Enid native and Medal of Honor recipient for whom Vance Air Force Base was named will be posthumously inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame Nov. 11.

Lt. Col. Leon R. “Bob” Vance will be among nine inductees to the hall of fame.

The ceremony will begin at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 11 at Gaylord Center at Oklahoma Christian University in Edmond.

Vance was born in Enid in 1916. He graduated from Enid High School and attended the University of Oklahoma, where he participated in the school’s ROTC program.

He applied for the United States Military Academy and was accepted. He graduated from West Point in 1939 as an infantry lieutenant.

Vance asked to go to flying school and was accepted into the Army Air Corps, which became the Army Air Forces during World War II.

Then he went to Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, and commanded the 49th Squadron. He rose from second lieutenant to lieutenant colonel in less than five years.

He was assigned to a B-24 Liberator group stationed in England prior to D-Day.

Vance earned his Medal of Honor on June 5, 1944, his second and final combat mission. It was the day before the D-Day invasion and B-24 Liberators attacked German positions on the coast of France. Vance was the command pilot.

The B-24s were hit by anti-aircraft artillery. The plane Vance was in was hit by flak, which damaged the engines and wounded members of the crew, including Vance.

Vance’s foot was caught behind the co-pilot’s seat.

He and the co-pilot guided the aircraft toward England. He ordered the crew to bail out while continuing to fly the plane, thinking there was one other wounded man aboard who could not be moved.

Vance flew the B-24 from the floor of the cockpit. He ditched it in the ocean but was pinned by the upper turret and by his foot, which still was caught behind the co-pilot’s seat. When the plane hit the ocean, an explosion blew him out of the aircraft. He could not find the other wounded man. Vance then swam toward the coast and was picked up by an air-sea rescue plane. Following surgery in England, he was put on a plane for evacuation to the United States. The plane disappeared between Iceland and Newfoundland and was never found.

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