MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The sacrifice made 19 years ago by a West Virginia National Guardsman will be commemorated this weekend.
In 2001, Staff Sergeant Gene Vance Junior 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, military, local and federal organizations have named buildings, bridges, roads and trails, all over the world, 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, TX
- The Vance Mile along Deckers Creek Rail Trail in Morgantown, WV
- The SSG Gene Arden Vance Jr. Memorial Bridge in Oceana, WV
- Gene Arden Vance Jr. Memorial Drive in Morgantown, WV
- The SSG Gene Arden Vance Jr.& SG Deforest Lee Talbert Hall of Honor at Camp Dawson in Kingwood, WV
- The Gene Vance Biometrics Experimentation Center at Camp Dawson in Kingwood, WV
- 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 nine years, Minc has also spearheaded Gene Vance Jr. Memorial Day, each May in Morgantown. The COVID-19 pandemic caused both the 2020 and 2021 editions of the ceremony to become virtual. Minc used the virtual concept as a way to give people who may not have been able to attend in person, the ability to participate.
Participants for the 2021 event include:
- U.S. Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito
- WV Governor Jim Justice
- General Austin “Scott” Miller, commander of U.S. Army and NATO forces in Afghanistan
- Major General James Hoyer(Ret.), Director of the WV COVID-19 Interagency
- Brig. Gen. William Crane, Adjutant General of WV National Guard
- Morgantown Mayor Ron Dulaney
- WVU President E. Gordon Gee
- Dr. Clay Marsh, WV Coronavirus “czar”
- The Davisson Brothers Band
- 249th U.S. Army Band
- American Idol musician Cody Clayton Eagle
- …and many more. A full list can be found in the event’s program.
You can also watch previous ceremonies and coverage of Vance’s story below: