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To the Editor:
Forty-four West Virginians have been killed while serving in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. To honor these fallen heroes, the West Virginia National Guard Foundation is placing plaques at Camp Dawson in Preston County inscribed with the names of each West Virginian killed in those conflicts.
There were four service members killed in Afghanistan or Iraq from Monongalia County: Gene Arden Vance, Jr., Daniel Mehringer, Brent Cole and Andrew Harper. Two other local service members killed in action were Anissa Sherro, from Taylor County and John Byrd, II.
I remember very clearly hearing the news that Gene Vance had died, because it was so shocking that the first fatality of those wars from our state was a resident of Morgantown, my hometown. Gene was also the first West Virginia member of the National Guard to be killed in direct combat since World War II. He was posthumously promoted from Corporal to Staff Sergeant.
Born in Frankfurt Germany on November 30, 1963 and a graduate of Oceana High School in Wyoming County, Gene would have been 50 years old this month had he not been ambushed while on a patrol mission in Afghanistan on May 19, 2002.
Gene was a cryptologic linguist, serving in the U.S. Army from 1983 until 1990. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions in the Persian Gulf War and joined the Army Reserves. After the events on September 11, 2001, Vance’s special forces unit was activated as a part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Gene and Lisa Vance were married on July 31, 2001 but their plans for a romantic honeymoon were interrupted when he was called up to service. He is survived by his wife, his daughter Amber, and his mother, June Carrol Steele.
Staff Sergeant Vance was honored in a ceremony by the West Virginia Legislature and received numerous medals, ribbons and awards, including the Bronze Star for Valor and the Legion of Merit. He worked for one of Morgantown’s largest bicycle stores, was an avid biker, hiker and kayaker and was a student at WVU. The City of Morgantown named a portion of the Rail Trail “the Vance Mile” in his memory. West Virginia University awarded him an honorary degree.
I have made a contribution to cover the costs of a plaque and asked that it be dedicated to the memory of Staff Sgt. Vance. I am sure all of our fallen heroes from these conflicts have similar stories of valor and loss. The WV National Guard maintains a list. For more information, contact CSM Kevin Harry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As we celebrate Veterans Day this year, if you are interested in making a donation to honor these deceased service members, please send your check in any amount to: WVNational Guard Foundation, 1703 Coonskin Drive, Charleston, WV 25311 and please indicate “Gold Star” on the memo line of the check. The foundation is a 501(c)3 and all contributions are tax deductible.
Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer