MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The sacrifice made 20 years ago by a West Virginia National Guardsman will be commemorated this weekend.

Lisa & Gene Vance

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 hit New York City, the Pentagon and rural Pennsylvania.

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.

Sgt. Gene Vance Jr.

In May 2002, Vance was killed near the border with Pakistan, while helping to save his comrades. He became the first National Guardsman to die in direct action since Vietnam and the first West Virginia guardsman to be killed 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 10 years, Minc has also spearheaded Gene Vance Jr. Memorial Day, each May in Morgantown. The COVID-19 pandemic caused the 2020 and 2021 and now the 2022 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 2022 event include:

  • U.S. Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito
  • WV Governor Jim Justice
  • Major General William Crane, Adjutant General of the WV National Guard
  • Major General James Hoyer(Ret.), Director of the WV COVID-19 Interagency Task Force
  • Sgt. Major Dennis Riggs, 19th Special Forces Group(Airborne)
  • Morgantown Mayor Jenny Selin
  • WVU President E. Gordon Gee
  • Dr. Clay Marsh, WV Coronavirus “czar”
  • Denise Vanburen, President General of the Daughters of the American Revolution
  • Douglas Geary, Ride Captain of the West Virginia Patriot Guard Riders
  • 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 watch the full 2022 Gene Vance Jr. Day ceremony on the foundation’s website and Youtube channel, starting on Saturday, May 21.