Medal of Honor Recipients
The Congressional Medal of Honor,
our nation's highest award for valor in combat
Citation for Lieutenant Colonel Leon Robert Vance, Jr.
Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army Air Corps, 489th Bomber Group.
Place and date: Over Wimereaux, France, 5 June 1944.
Entered Service at: Garden City, N.Y.
Born: 11 August 1916, Enid, Okla.
G.O. No.: 1, 4 January 1945.
Citation: 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 three 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 one 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 one of the crewmembers was unable to jump due to injuries; so he made the decision to ditch the ship in the channel, thereby giving his men 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.
Leon R. Vance, Jr was born in Corwin, Kansas in 1916. His family moved to Enid, Oklahoma in 1920, where Vance attended public schools and excelled in science and mathematics. Vance entered the University of Oklahoma at Norman with the Class of 1935 and was a member of The Bombadiers, an Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps fraternity which recognized students of outstanding leadership and character. After two years at OU, Vance received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Upon graduation, he was commissioned a second lieutenant and accepted for Flying School at Randolph Field, Texas. Following the action cited Vance was hospitalized in England for approximately two months before boarding a hospital aircraft for transport back to the United States. His plane was reported missing over the Atlantic. In addition to the Medal of Honor, Lieutenant Colonel Vance's awards include the Silver Star, Purple Heart, and Air Medal. On the ninth of July 1949, Enid Air Force Base was redesignated Vance Air Force Base and dedicated to the honor and memory of Lieutenant Colonel Leon R. Vance.
Citation for Colonel John Lucian Smith
Rank and organization: Major, U.S. Marine Corps, Marine Fighting Squadron 223
Place and date: In the Solomon Islands area, August-September 1942.
Entered service at: Oklahoma.
Born: 26 December 1914, Lexington, Okla.
Other Navy award: Legion of Merit.
Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and heroic achievement in aerial combat above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of Marine Fighting Squadron 223 during operations against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands area, August-September 1942. Repeatedly risking his life in aggressive and daring attacks, Maj. Smith led his squadron against a determined force, greatly superior in numbers, personally shooting down 16 Japanese planes between 21 August and 15 September 1942. In spite of the limited combat experience of many of the pilots of this squadron, they achieved the notable record of a total of 83 enemy aircraft destroyed in this period, mainly attributable to the thorough training under Maj. Smith and to his intrepid and inspiring leadership. His bold tactics and indomitable fighting spirit, and the valiant and zealous fortitude of the men of his command not only rendered the enemy's attacks ineffective and costly to Japan, but contributed to the security of our advance base. His loyal and courageous devotion to duty sustains and enhances the finest traditions of the U. S. Naval Service.
John L. Smith was born in Lexington, Oklahoma in 1914. He entered the University of Oklahoma at Norman with the Class of 1936. Smith rose to the rank of Cadet Lieutenant Colonel during his senior year and upon graduation was commissioned in the Army as a second lieutenant of field artillery. Attracted by the opportunity to become a fighter pilot, Smith transferred to the Marine Corps soon after graduation. He became the first Marine fighter ace of World War II while serving on Guadalcanal. Colonel Smith commanded several fighter squadrons during the war and became one of the highest scoring American fighter aces of World War II