"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

The Potential Discovery of Lt. Col. Leon "Bob" Vance's Crashed Army Air Corp Air Ambulance

Lt. Col. Bob Vance, Army Air Corp

On July 26, 1944, a C54 Air Ambulance, tail #107470, disappeared enroute to the United States from England. Twenty-six people on board perished.  

Eighteen of the missing were wounded veterans, flying home on stretchers.  They were soldiers who had served the United States in the European War Theater. Flying with these injured veterans were a flight nurse, an Army Medic, and an Army Air Corp flight crew of six.

Somewhere between Iceland and Greenland, the C54 Air Ambulance crashed. Though search teams sought to recover the plane and bodies, the wreckage was never found, nor were the twenty-six bodies recovered. 

As we celebrate Veteran's Day, November 11, 2021, I can't think of a better way to honor our veterans than to tell the recent story (2021) of the potential discovery of that C54 Air Ambulance and the remains of its occupants. 

One of the 26 onboard that Air Ambulance was Lt. Col. Leon Robert "Bob" Vance from Enid, Oklahoma. Vance Air Force Base in Enid is named in his honor. The United States government would posthumously award Lt. Col. Vance the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during the Normandy Invasion, actions that led to the wounds which had placed him on that Air Ambulance to fly home to Enid, Oklahoma, after seven weeks in a veteran's hospital in London. 

The heroic story of how Lt. Col. Bob Vance earned the Medal of Honor is compelling. It is told via a holographic display in the exit lobby of the beautiful  Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Normandy, France. I have been there many times and will summarize:

"On June 5, 1944, Army Air Corp commander Lt. Col. Vance commanded a bombardment group on a mission from southern England to Normandy, France, to soften the German beach defenses in preparation for the June 6, 1944, Normandy Invasion, codenamed Operation Overlord. 

Lt. Col. Bob Vance flew as co-pilot in the lead bomber, leaving England early on the morning of June 5, 1944, twenty-four hours before the infamous beach invasions of Normandy. Vance's B-24 bomber in which he flew was called the Missouri Sue. His mission was dangerous. The Germans expected an imminent invasion of France, but weren't sure where on the coastline, so German anti-flak, machine bunkers, and artillery were placed all along the Normandy coastline. 

Reaching his German beach-front target, Lt. Col. Vance ordered the bomb bay doors open and all the Missour Sue's bombs released, a command followed by all bombers following his lead. But the bombs in Vance's plane failed to release on the first run, so Lt. Col. Vance ordered a 360-degree turn for a second pass over the target, a very risky move since German anti-flak was zeroing in on the planes. 
Somewhere in the process of the second bomb run, anti-flak repeatedly hit the Missouri Sue,  wounding several members of the crew, and killing the pilot. Lt. Col. Vance was also severely wounded, his right foot nearly severed, and the melted steel pinned what was left below his ankle to the floor. He couldn't move. From a reclining position, Commander Bob  Vance took over flying the B-24 bomber back to England.  One 500 pound bomb which had not properly release hung precariously in the bomb bay doors as the plane sputtered toward England. 

As Lt. Col Vance passed over the Dover Cliffs of England, three of the four B-24 bomber's engines shut down. The fourth had to be manually shut down to prevent a stall. The damaged plane had showered gasoline all the way across the channel toward England. Vance, ordered his men to parachute to safety, and then he turned the plane back toward the channel during its forced descent  from 10,000 feet, not wanting the plane to crash on the English landscape with a bomb underneath, potentially injuring civilians.

Vance piloted the gliding plane back into the English channel where it crashed into the water. The force of the crash propelled Bob Vance from the plane and knocked him unconscious, his right foot now completely severed. Somehow Lt. Col. Vance managed to float to the surface where he was eventually rescued. The surviving ten men credited the actions of Bob Vance for their safe return to England."

Vance recuperated in London from his injuries for the next seven weeks. Unfortunately, Bob's career as a pilot was over. His right foot was gone. He wrote letters home describing to his wife and family the injuries he sustained, urging them not to worry, and that as soon as he was able, he would be on a medical flight home to Enid. His letters were initially filled with excitement and enthusiasm for Operation Overlord, and he expressed pride for what his bombing crew had done in preparation for the landing. 

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, a longtime Enid High School football coach had been killed at the Enid Army Air Corp Traning Base where he served as a flight instructor. He died during a training accident.

The only thing that kept Bob Vance going during his recovery in London was the knowledge that he would soon see his wife, Georgette, and their two-year-old child, Sharon. Just before he left England, Vance discovered he'd been nominated for the Medal of Honor.

On Wednesday, July 26, 1944, Lt. Col. Bob Vance joined seventeen other wounded soldiers and boarded the Army Air Ambulance for their trip home to America. Georgette and Sharon anxiously anticipated their loved one's arrival. Sharon didn't understand much, but she could say, "Daddy's coming home!"

On Friday, July 28, 1944, Georgette Vance received a knock on her front door. An Army Air Corp officer and an Army chaplain from the nearby Enid Army Air Corp Training Base stood on her porch holding a telegram. They informed Georgette that her husband Bob was missing in action. Georgette collapsed in grief. Her two-year-old daughter Sharon tugged at her mother's dress, wanting to be held. 

Later that fall (1944), the United States government informed Georgette that her husband had been bestowed the Medal of Honor. She requested that the official ceremony be delayed until her daughter, Sharon, was old enough to comprehend what her father had done. Two years later, on October 11, 1946, Sharon Vance, Bob's soon-to-be four-year-old daughter officially received the Medal of Honor on behalf of the Vance family at an official military ceremony in Enid, Oklahoma. 

The Discovery


The location of the crash site, eastern ravine-filled and snow covered coast of Greenland

On November 1, 2021, at 10:25 am, I received an email from a man named Alan Hiett.
"Greetings, Wade. I have a ministry finding missing aircraft and bringing closure to families that hurt for years in wanting to know where their loved ones are. I recently found a debris field on the coast of Greenland that has the tail numbers of the missing C-54 that Colonel Leon Robert Vance was on with 25 other souls. I have images and coordinates. They have been presented to the Department of Defense (DPAA) for verification. I would be happy to share them with you and give you an update on the families I have been in contact with. My phone number is (202) ___ ___ . Thanks, Alan Hiatt."
As you might imagine, I was stunned. I immediately called Alan and since then have been in communication via email, text, and additional phone conversations. He has given me permission to post these photos from an isolated, unpopulated, mostly snow and ice-covered ravine-covered coastline of Greenland. He has a Senator from Maine involved with the DOD in an attempt to first verify, and then obtain the wreckage. 

The following is Alan's story in his own words. Some of the photos he sent me from the debris field on the coast of Greenland will be interspersed throughout his written narrative.
"My father was a United States Army Captain stationed in Neu-Ulm Germany. My mother, sister, and I joined him there in 1954. 

In August of 1956, my mother’s father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and her family suggested that she should return back to the United States. My mother, sister and I flew from Frankfurt Germany on a DC-4 military charter flight, similar to the military C-54 Air Ambulance that went missing on July 26, 1944. We flew from Frankfurt Germany to Meeks Field, Iceland, where the aircraft was refueled, just like Vance's plane. 

I remember the refueling stop well. It was approximately one o’clock in the morning and cold as we deplaned and waited for the refueling. After we departed Meeks Field we took off toward New York City. As the sun was coming up,   could see land on the starboard side of the aircraft. It was the southern tip of Greenland. We were following the same path that the the C-54 Army Air Ambulance followed a dozen years earlier.
The White Star on the fuselage of #107407

Flash forward to October 2020.  I am flying on Google Earth up the southern tip of Greenland and all I saw was white from the snow.  Why was I going back up this coastline of Greenland? I was looking for a missing Air Ambulance that disappeared July 26, 1944 with 26 souls on board that never had the chance to return home to their loved ones. They had served their country in the European War Theater and were wounded in the invasion of France. Eighteen stretcher cases. one flight nurse, an Army Medic, and a flight crew of six on their way home when they disappeared without a trace. 

 

The debris field of Army Air Corp Air Ambulance #107407

I have a ministry searching for missing aircraft to help families find closure in the loss of their loved ones. I first took this mission up as a hobby because of my joy in flying (my mother was a pilot) and all the war stories I heard from pilots in Japan where we lived when the Korean War broke out. My father was one of the first responders into Korea and was wounded immediately and returned to Japan for treatment of his wounds.  

Complete debris field map of Air Ambulance #107407, Greenland eastern coast

While recovering at our home in Osaka, Japan my father would invite other wounded men to our home for R&R with some f them being pilots that flew missions in Korea and fly back to Japan from their missions. I would sit at their feet ( I was six years old) in our living room and hear firsthand about their missions. That is where I found my love for flying and my deep appreciation for our men and women in uniform. Some of the army personnel that came to our home were also nurses. When I first started searching for missing aircraft I called it a hobby but, after speaking with several families about missing aircraft I found very deep grief in their souls for their missing loved ones, not knowing what happened to them or where their bodies were. That is when I change my mission to a ministry helping people find closure in their lives.

The way I found the debris field in Greenland was an act of God. Again flying over the coast of Greenland with Google Earth I saw a red spot appear on the screen that got my attention.  I focused down to the area and changed the Historical Tool to a non-snow view and started finding the debris of an aircraft. 
Possible life raft
The first identifying debris was the 5-point white star, the word ARMY, the numbers 470, the number 70 on a wing section and it went on from there. 
Numbers 470

I have since communicated with several families that had loved ones on the aircraft and I am blessed with knowing them. 

Now it is up to the powers of our Defense Department to respond to what I see and feel is God’s will to verify and if possible to RETURN AND RESTORE these precious souls to their families."
I will be in contact with Vance Air Force Base, U.S. Senator James Lankford, and the Department of Defense. I do not know what will be required for a mission to the east coast of Greenland to investigate the wreckage site, The coast is already covered with snow and ice for the winter. The next time it can be investigated is June/July 2022. 

It would be a dream to recover the wreckage and any remains of the service members by July 26, 2024, the 80th anniversary of the crash. 

As Alan Hiatt would say, "Lord willing." 

10.11.1946 - Sharon is pinned with her father's Medal of Honor

17 comments:

Christiane said...

A good post for this important national holiday, WADE.

Bob Cleveland said...

A wonderful post, and I thank you for posting it!

Mot to nit-pick, but wouldn't a 360 degree turn wind up with one going the same way as they were before the turn?

Rex Ray said...

Wade,

That’s a heart-breaking story. Several words reminded me of different stories:

1. “Not wanting the plane to crash on the English landscape”
Dad helped decide what ‘body parts’ belonged to which soldier of an American airplane that crashed in England.

2. “Normandy Invasion”: Dad landed 3 days later with General Patton’s Forth Armored Division.

3. “Army chaplain”: Dad was a chaplain.

4. “Frankfurt, Germany”: My brother and I went to high school there two years.

5. “Returned to Japan”: Been there on 13 mission trips.

6. “treatment of his wounds”: Today, went to VA in Bonham, to find out why my leg started hurting so bad I use two canes instead of one. It was closed.

Christiane said...

REX RAY,

your number 6 is heart-breaking . . . of all days, they were closed

go to your local ER if your pain has increased and know that waiting IS not a good idea . . . blood clots forming and hurting, infection increasing . . . so many reasons for pain to increase that need immediate attention

just GO and be checked!!! For once, agree with me! And God Bless you and Judy on this Veterans' Day.

Rex Ray said...

CHRISTIANE,

The Bonham VA is a large 4-story building full of doctors, nurses, X-ray machines, drugs etc. To see a doctor, you usually have to call for an appointment which usually takes 3 days. They’re only open from 7 A.M. to 5 P.M. and closed Saturday and Sunday. (And all day on Veteran’s Day.)

If it’s an emergency, you’re told to go to a regular hospital. Once, my heart started racing while at the VA, and they called an ambulance that took me to a regular hospital that was four blocks away. They did pay the bill from that hospital and the ambulance fee.

I wonder if the VA gets a lot of their doctors that couldn’t make it in the ‘real world’.

One said he’d stop the pain in my ankle by putting nettles in my ear. (They were blunt and small, and he put in 5.) Said it was used for wounded soldiers to stop pain until they got to a hospital. I didn’t feel any ear pain until after the deaden shot wore off. Took them out and told him later I believed the wounded soldiers stopped feeling pain because their ears hurt so much.)

Leg is feeling better now by keeping heat on it. Will get it checked today.

Steve Miller said...

Wade,

I have for many years so appreciated your high regard for history and especially military history. This appreciation in our day is fading for the emotional driven revisionist mindset. As a retired Air Force aviator growing up in Tulsa I am quite familiar with Vance AFB. I have read the history behind the naming Vance AFB. I do pray the account you have shared about Lt Col Vance is brought to full closure. I have experienced the loss of many fellow aviators while on active duty and there are still areas where we are not fully sure what happened. Some of these happened on my tours in Germany, Nevada, and Utah. I know what that view Lt Col Vance saw flying over the cliffs of Dover in England looks like at low level in a fighter aircraft. With all of his pain and emotions for him to do what he did is indeed Medal of Honor worthy. Please keep up the good work of sharing the Gospel and your love for history. I am an avid follower of your research and your timely comments. Bless you and your family.

Steve Miller
Colonel, US Air Force (retired)

Rex Ray said...

CHRISTIANE,

Did you see Biden’s latest long speech? He looked great. It had so much detailed information, you’d wonder how could anyone remember it all. He wasn’t reading from notes, but constantly looked to the left, straight ahead, and to the right; back and forth the entire speech.

Judy and I believe there was at least 3 teleprompters that erased the words after they were said.

Rex Ray said...

CHRISTIANE,

You didn’t reply to my asking if you’d watched Biden’s last speech. (The one that so much information it’d fill half a book.)

Do you remember ‘crying’ about kids in cages until it was proven the picture was taken when Obama was President?

What do you think about girls being raped after they crossed the border?

Did you read how the Cartel killed a woman and mutilated her body on the Texas side of the border as a warning to others? I guess she failed to pay them. I believe America should declare war on the Cartel.

A picture on my phone reads: “We spent 738 billion dollars on defense in 2020, and the Capitol building was taken in 10 minutes by Duck Dynasty and a guy in a deerskin bikini.”

Rex Ray said...

CHRISTIANE,

When I showed Home Health where and how much I was hurting today, she said I should see a doctor as soon as possible, and recommended: Dr. Diego Restrepo. (Known as Dr. D) She said that today he’d be at a ‘family medical facility in Sherman where it was ‘first come; first served’.

He’s been our family Dr. for many years. My wife Belle had yearly appointments with him. The last time she saw him, he told me there was no need for another appointment.

His diagnoses made me feel good in that I was right, the bad news was I was right; Cellulitis. He gave me a shot, and am taking medicine.

Rex Ray said...

P.S.

When I walk, I walk on one leg and take another step with my weight balanced on two canes. Most of the time, I keep my feet higher than my head. Judy does all the ‘work’. If this doesn’t work, I’ll go to a hospital.

Christiane said...

Hey REX RAY,

your pain level sounds terrible - hopefully some intervention with the cellulite infection will help soon - you have my prayers for help and recovery

Maybe it's time to hire some house-keeping or contracting workers to help out around your place until things are better? I know, I know, I wanted to save money too, but comes a time in life where people of our age actually CAN justify spending on some help when it is really needed and when it makes a difference on our health. Judy sounds like a God-send helper, but she can't do everything on your land, what with boats getting loose and all. Think about it. When I went to sell my house and downsize, I spent on contractors and house-cleaning with no regrets at all as my son told me, the money is an investment in the property's value: sure enough, the house sold the first week for MORE than was asked, and is now under contract until the end of the month. Give yourself and Judy a break and hire some help while you are in this much pain. Like I said, think about it.

No, I didn't hear Biden's 'big speech' so no response there. As for where you have been getting your info on 'those terrible people crossing the border', I would of course know that you thought the worst of them;
but I don't . . . some will be criminals, some will be evil, but you must remember the 'source' of information about how we are to treat asylum seekers that REALLY matters:

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2016/11/26/top-7-bible-verses-about-immigration/

People have turned away from the Word towards other 'sources' that preach contempt and hatred and fear;
but in the end, the one source that will NOT fail us is the WORD itself and in it we find at least some guidance to know that asylum seekers are often fleeing from persecution or worse,
as in the case of a young family with an infant son who were told by an angel of the Lord to seek refuge in another land for a time, and so Herod's soldiers were not able to kill the Savior of humankind.

I've seen some of your media 'sources', yes; but I think I'll stay in the Word, REX RAY, on matters of how to view asylum seekers and their families, you bet.

Rex Ray said...

CHRISTIANE,

My father was known as a workaholic, but Judy puts him to same. She’s two years younger than me and about 50 years more active. (Ask Wade; I’m sure he remembers our tour together in Israel.)

You said we should hire someone to do work around here. (I know you have good intentions, but that’d upset Judy. Last couple weeks she wanted our large living room to be white. So, using a step stool, she took the wallpaper off, textured, and painted the walls. It’s not that we can’t afford to hire it done. (See below.)

This week, Judy’s financial adviser, her husband, and her mother took us out to eat. The mother is 97 years-old and sharp as a tack. I’m guessing she’s in a retirement center because looking out the ‘bay windows’ at the countryside, she said she could sit there and look all day.

There’s a BIG difference in asylum seekers and those illegals entering Texas, and for sure none are baby Jesus. There’s two ways to enter America, legal and illegal.

CHRISTIANE, do you remember the seven steps that cause great nations to fall? The last: “Unable to protect its borders.”

Bible quiz:

How did Paul know that Moses kept wearing his veil after God’s GLORY had faded?

“Since we know that this new glory will never go away, we can preach with great boldness, and not as Moses did, who put a veil over his face so that the Israelis could not see the GLORY fade away.” (2 Corinthians 3:12-13 Living Bible)

The hour is late, but enough time has gone by that I can take some more Tylenol.

Christiane said...

Hope your Tylenol helped, REX RAY.

I turned on the news tonight and was surprised to see THIS reported:

https://thehill.com/homenews/media/581443-michael-flynn-says-of-the-us-we-have-to-have-one-religion

I don't know WHY I'm surprised, as Christian Dominionism has been around for a long time on the extreme right,
but STILL, in light of the recent attacks on the US Constitution, it WAS a surprise, and an unwelcomed one, yes.

I wonder if Flynn will 'walk it back' after he gets slammed for it, or if people will join him and get this finally out on the table as a demand from the Christian far right. I know several conservative Christian people and they support the US Constitution. So there may be (hopefully) many conservative Christian people who disagree with Flynn.

Some are saying Flynn called for this in an attempt to refute the QAnon 'belief' that Flynn worships Satan (even I had not heard of this stuff, REX RAY), so it all gets crazier and crazier . . . .

Extremism and the US Constitution don't mix. Flynn's new statement is another example of this truth, in my opinion. What do you think, REX RAY.

Rex Ray said...

CHRISTIANE,

Our Constitution gives everyone “Freedom of religion”.

Flynn’s ‘single religion for America’ is crazy; he’s lost his marbles on that point.

Christiane said...

THANK YOU REX RAY,

you have supported my trust in our Americans who hold to the conservative Christian faith!

This makes my evening.

I hope you are feeling a bit better of the pain. I know it's a heavy burden.
Prayers will continue for good help to come to you this week.

Rex Ray said...

CHRISTIANE,

You’d think, I’d learn after a while to take some Tylenol before going to bed. So, while I’m waiting, I’ll give a recipe for ‘Pecan Pie Bars’ that makes about 28 2-inch-squares. (Taste better than pecan pie.)

Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup butter (softened)
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
2/3 cup butter
3 tablespoons whipping cream
3 ½ cups coarsely chopped pecans

Directions
Step 1
Sift together 2 cups flour and 2/3 powdered sugar. Cut in ¾ cup softened butter using a pastry blender or fork just until mixture resembles coarse meal. Pat mixture on bottom and 1 ½ inches up sides of a lightly greased 13 x 9-inch baking dish.

Step 2
Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool.

Step 3
Bring brown sugar, honey, 2/3 cup butter, and whipping cream to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in pecans, and pour hot filling into prepared crust.

Step 4
Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden and bubbly.
Cool completely before cutting into 2-inch squares.

J D Rector said...

Wade:
As an old 67yo proud Army brat of a Korean War Veteran Dad,... thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this essential military, historical narrative. I'm praying that the bodily remains will be found and returned to their homelands.

God bless all of our veterans, men and women, who have served in our armed forces!
J.D.