But I would like to also honor another man, a contemporary of both my grandfathers, a native of Enid, Oklahoma, and a graduate of Enid High School.
|Rachelle at the American Cemetery, Normandy
This soldier's name is Leon Robert "Bob" Vance, the man for whom Vance Air Force Base is named.
Bob is prominently featured at the American Cemetery and Memorial in Normandy, France.
Rachelle and I have been to Normandy to visit the American War Memorial on two separate occasions. We have spent time at Omaha Beach and toured the American Cemetery where over 10,000 Americans are buried on France's soil.
|Col. Bob Vance from Enid, Oklahoma
He had been an exceptional athlete and an honors student in high school, and after graduation, Bob entered the University of Oklahoma and the ROTC program at OU. Bob attended the university for his freshman and sophomore years before transferring to the West Point Military Academy in 1935.
For the next five years Lieutenant Robert Vance would first be trained, and then train, Army Air Force pilots at various Air Force bases around the United States. He would sometimes wonder if the war would be over before he actually saw combat, but his expertise as a pilot trainer was both needed and rewarded. By 1944 he had become a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Air Force.
Vance's combat mission would be to fly with a crew in a bomber named the Missouri Sue and drop bombs on the German lines located on the shores of France twenty-four hours before the invasion, softening the beach for the infantry landings that would arrive a few hours later.
The bombs failed to release on the first run over the target, so Lieutenant Colonel Vance ordered a 360-degree turn for a second pass. Somewhere in the process of the second bomb run Missouri Sue was repeatedly hit by German flak, killing the pilot, wounding several members of the crew, and nearly severing Bob Vance's right foot, pinning him to the floor of the plane.
Vance's Recuperation and Tragic Death
His spirits lowered, however, when he left the hospital for the first time, hobbling on his crutches in the streets of London, and was met by a small boy who looked him over, saw his missing foot, and said, "Don't worry Yank, you won't miss it!" The emotional impact of realizing he would never fly again was enormous, and his depression increased when word came that his father had been killed in an aircraft accident.
The only thing that kept him going during his eight weeks of recovery was the knowledge that he would soon see his wife and small child. He made plans to leave England on a medical evacuation plane. Just before he left he discovered he had been nominated for the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions. On July 26, 1944, Vance joined other wounded soldiers as they boarded a transport plane for the trip back to America. His wife Georgette and Sharon both anxiously anticipated their loved one's arrival.
On this Memorial Day, we all say "Thank You" to Bob Vance of Enid, Oklahoma, and other men and women who gave their lives so that we might read books in English.