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Photos unveiled during 70th anniversary of base renaming

Unveiling

Unveiling a series of photos commemorating Lt. Col. Leon Vance’s service to the nation and his Medal of Honor citation during a ceremony recognizing the 70th anniversary of the airfield renaming, are, left to right, Chief Master Sgt. Frank Graziano, 71st Flying Training Wing command chief; Dr. Dan LeClair, 71st FTW historian; and Col. Jay Johnson, 71st FTW vice commander. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Airman 1st Class Cameron A. Schultz)

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Oklahoma, has a long and colorful heritage celebrated most recently during a ceremony recognizing the 70th anniversary of the airfield being renamed in honor of local Medal of Honor recipient, Lt. Col. Leon Vance Jr.

On July 9, 2019, Col. Jay Johnson, the vice commander of the 71st Flying Training Wing, unveiled a series of photos commemorating Lt. Col. Vance’s service to the nation and his Medal of Honor citation.

“Today we are honored and humbled to remember and reflect on the service and sacrifice of our namesake, Lt. Col. Leon Vance,” said Johnson.

“On this 70th anniversary of the naming of Vance Air Force Base in his honor we remember the selfless courage he displayed on June 5, 1944, as he led the 489th Bombing Group in a diversionary attack against German coastal defenses in France, a prelude to D-Day,” said Johnson.

While acting as the overall mission commander, Vance’s group encountered fierce German anti-aircraft fire over France, which severely crippled the Missouri Sue, the lead B-24 Liberator in the group. The pilot and the co-pilot were killed and crew members were seriously injured.

Vance assumed command of the aircraft and successfully completed the mission, despite his foot being nearly severed and pinned by wreckage of the aircraft.

He then ordered the crew to bail out, saving their lives before ditching the B-24 while lying on the floor using only the aileron and elevators for control and the side window of the cockpit for visual reference.

A 500-pound bomb, hung up in the bomb bay, exploded on impact. Vance survived the explosion which freed his foot from the wreckage.

After a hospital stay, Vance was headed back home to the United States when the aircraft he was on was lost somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean July 26, 1944.

On Oct. 11, 1946, the Medal of Honor was awarded to Vance posthumously and presented to his 3-year-old daughter Sharon D. Vance-Kiernan, the namesake of the “Sharon D” painted on the nose of his original B-24.

Over the years, Vance-Kiernan frequently visited Vance AFB to pay tribute to her father.

“I’d like to think that the people accomplishing the mission here have taken over where my father left off,” she said during a visit. “Yes, wherever he is, I know he’d be very proud.

“It’s hard to put into words the respect and love you can feel for someone you’ve never met,” she said. “But my grandmother kept my father’s memory alive for me, and I feel close to him at least in spirit.”

Vance-Kiernan, 76, died Jan. 17, 2019.

During the July 9 renaming ceremony, the vice commander remarked that Vance pride is on clear display every single day through the heritage the officers, enlisted and civilians stationed at the base continue to build.

“We have Lt. Col. Vance’s spirit in our hearts as we continue to train the best pilots in the world, deploy warriors across the globe, develop our Airmen and demonstrate a culture rooted not only in the local community, but in armed forces history,” said Johnson.