MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The City of Morgantown honored Staff Sergeant Gene Vance Jr. by raising the flag that flew over Camp Vance in Afghanistan on Saturday at the Public Safety Building. The flag was raised in a ceremony in recognition of the 12th Annual Gene Vance Jr. Day, with state officials, city officials, and members of Vance’s unit who are currently serving in attendance.
“It’s a real honor to come into Morgantown,” said LTC Robert V. Luther, 2-19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), who was the keynote speaker of the ceremony. “He was a member of the battalion in my command now; he gave the ultimate sacrifice. Following 9/11, he felt the same patriotism, unity, and desire to do something,” he said.
Staff Sergeant Gene Vance Jr. was a student at WVU when he was mobilized to Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001, attacks as part of the Global War on Terror. On May 18, 2002, Vance was killed near the border of Pakistan in a firefight in which he saved the lives of two American and 18 Afghan soldiers. At the time, Vance was the first National Guardsman to die in combat since the Vietnam War and the first West Virginia guardsman killed in combat since World War II. Luther says Vance’s memory still resonates with the unit over twenty years later.
“His sacrifice and the memory of that make us try to be just a little bit better,” said Luther. “To try to do just a little bit more, knowing that Gene gave everything that he had in his service,” he said.
The ceremony also marks the first time the flag raised in honor of Vance has flown in the United States. Camp Vance in Afghanistan, where the flag is primarily flown, is one of several landmarks named to memorialize Vance, including the Vance Mile along Deckers Creek Rail Trail and Gene Arden Vance Jr. Memorial Drive both in Morgantown, the SSG Gene Arden Vance Jr. Memorial Bridge in Oceana, WV, the SSG Gene Arden Vance Jr. and SG Deforest Lee Talbert Hall of Honor, and the Gene Vance Biometrics Experimentation Center both at Camp Dawson.
“Thousands of members, not only of my unit but of other units, flowed through that facility and served at that facility,” said Luther on the impact of Camp Vance in Afghanistan. “And they all knew Gene, and they all knew his sacrifice,” he said.
Vance and all West Virginians who have given their lives as part of the war on terror were remembered as part of the ceremony. Remarks were also made by State Senator Mike Oliverio, Morgantown Mayor Jenny Selin, Deputy Mayor Danielle Trumble, and Councilor Bill Kawecki. Morgantown native country music singer Cody Clayton Eagle also performed, with veterans and family members of Vance in attendance.
“As West Virginians, I think we have to be proud of heroes like Sergeant Gene Arden Vance Jr.” said Luther.