Leon Vance bigraphy, stories - United States Air Force Medal of Honor recipient

Leon Vance : biography

August 11, 1916 - July 26, 1944

Leon Robert "Bob" Vance, Jr. (August 11, 1916 – July 26, 1944) was a Medal of Honor recipient who served in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II.


Nearly two months later, after receiving medical treatment in the United Kingdom, Vance was sent back to the United States on a Douglas C-54 Skymaster transport for further treatment and possible fitting of a prosthetic foot. The C-54 with all aboard disappeared on July 26, 1944, and was presumed to have crashed into the Atlantic Ocean between Iceland and Newfoundland. The recommendation that he be awarded the Medal of Honor was confirmed in orders on January 4, 1945, but his widow requested that the awards ceremony be delayed until the medal could be presented to their daughter. On October 11, 1946, Major General James P. Hodges, commander of the 2nd Bomb Division when Vance was assigned to it, made the presentation to Sharon Vance at Enid Army Air Base.


Medal of Honor citation

Vance, Leon Robert
Rank and organization
Lieutenant Colonel, Air Corps, 489th Bombardment Group (H)
Place and date
Over Wimereux. France, June 5, 1944
Entered service at
Garden City, New York
August 11, 1916, Enid, Oklahoma
General Orders No. 1, January 4, 1945

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty on 5 June 1944, when he led a Heavy Bombardment Group, in an attack against defended enemy coastal positions in the vicinity of Wimereaux, France. Approaching the target, his aircraft was hit repeatedly by antiaircraft fire which seriously crippled the ship, killed the pilot, and wounded several members of the crew, including Lt. Col. Vance, whose right foot was practically severed. In spite of his injury, and with 3 engines lost to the flak, he led his formation over the target, bombing it successfully. After applying a tourniquet to his leg with the aid of the radar operator, Lt. Col. Vance, realizing that the ship was approaching a stall altitude with the 1 remaining engine failing, struggled to a semi-upright position beside the copilot and took over control of the ship. Cutting the power and feathering the last engine he put the aircraft in glide sufficiently steep to maintain his airspeed. Gradually losing altitude, he at last reached the English coast, whereupon he ordered all members of the crew to bail out as he knew they would all safely make land. But he received a message over the interphone system which led him to believe 1 of the crewmembers was unable to jump due to injuries; so he made the decision to ditch the ship in the channel, thereby giving this man a chance for life. To add further to the danger of ditching the ship in his crippled condition, there was a 500-pound bomb hung up in the bomb bay. Unable to climb into the seat vacated by the copilot, since his foot, hanging on to his leg by a few tendons, had become lodged behind the copilot's seat, he nevertheless made a successful ditching while lying on the floor using only aileron and elevators for control and the side window of the cockpit for visual reference. On coming to rest in the water the aircraft commenced to sink rapidly with Lt. Col. Vance pinned in the cockpit by the upper turret which had crashed in during the landing. As it was settling beneath the waves an explosion occurred which threw Lt. Col. Vance clear of the wreckage. After clinging to a piece of floating wreckage until he could muster enough strength to inflate his life vest he began searching for the crewmember whom he believed to be aboard. Failing to find anyone he began swimming and was found approximately 50 minutes later by an Air-Sea Rescue craft. By his extraordinary flying skill and gallant leadership, despite his grave injury, Lt. Col. Vance led his formation to a successful bombing of the assigned target and returned the crew to a point where they could bail out with safety. His gallant and valorous decision to ditch the aircraft in order to give the crewmember he believed to be aboard a chance for life exemplifies the highest traditions of the U.S. Armed Forces.

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Living octopus

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