MORGANTOWN, WV – Throughout the current coronavirus pandemic, the West Virginia National Guard has been front and center, helping all around the state with testing, food distribution and much more.
But this weekend, it’s the sacrifice made 18 years ago by a West Virginia National Guardsman that is taking center stage.
In 2001, Staff Sgt. Gene Vance Jr. was a student at West Virginia University and was set to go on his honeymoon when the September 11th attacks rocked the country.
Vance’s Army unit, the 2nd battalion, 19th Special Forces (Airborne) was activated and he soon found himself in Afghanistan, where his Persian language, cryptology and special forces skills made him very valuable.
In May 2002, Vance was shot near the border with Pakistan, helping to save his comrades at the same time. He became the first National Guardsman to be killed in direct action since Vietnam and the first West Virginia guardsman to die in battle since World War II.
Several years after his death, Vance’s brother-in-law, Michael Minc founded the Gene Vance Jr. Foundation aimed at improving the quality of life for wounded veterans. Minc and the foundation have also worked hard to keep Vance’s memory alive. Over the years, the group has gotten things all over the world named in Vance’s honor:
- The Vance Barracks at the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey, in California
- Camp Vance in Bagram, Afghanistan
- The Vance-Nolan Building at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas
- The Vance Mile along Deckers Creek Rail Trail in Morgantown, West Virginia
- The SSG Gene Arden Vance Jr. Memorial Bridge in Oceana, West Virginia
- Gene Arden Vance Jr. Memorial Drive in Morgantown, West Virginia
- The SSG Gene Arden Vance Jr.& SG Deforest Lee Talbert Hall of Honor at Camp Dawson in Kingwood, West Virginia
- The Gene Vance Biometrics Experimentation Center at Camp Dawson in Kingwood, West Virginia
- The SGT Gene A. Vance Jr. Fitness Center in Afghanistan
- His name is also inscribed of the National Security Agency’s Cryptologic Memorial Wall
- Vance has also been featured in the books: “Hunting al Qaeda,” by an anonymous author and “Behind the Lines,” by Andrew Carroll.
For the past eight years, Minc has also spearheaded Gene Vance Jr. Memorial Day, each May in Morgantown. The COVID-19 pandemic is not keeping the 9th annual ceremony from happening. When the in-person event had to be canceled, Minc quickly went to work gathering government, military, education and religious leaders, along with musical performers, to put together a virtual ceremony.
- U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia)
- West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice
- Maj. Gen. James Hoyer of the West Virginia National Guard
- Command Sgt. Maj. James Jones of the West Virginia Army National Guard
- Morgantown Mayor Bill Kawecki
- West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee
- Mon Health System President David Goldberg
- Fairmont State University President Mirta Martin
- The Davisson Brothers band
- American Idol musician Cody Clayton Eagle
- Morgantown Vox Principalis Choral Association
- Singer-songwriters Eric Lewis and Rick Martin
You can watch the full 2020 Gene Vance Jr. Day ceremony in the video player at the top of this story. You can also watch previous coverage of Vance’s story below: