Fallen U.S. Soldier a Newlywed
May. 20, 2002
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) _ Sgt. Gene Arden Vance Jr. was a newlywed preparing for his honeymoon when his West Virginia National Guard unit was called to duty after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
He canceled the honeymoon and went with his 19th Special Forces Unit to Afghanistan, where he was killed Sunday when his unit came under fire.
``For the first time in his military career, he would have preferred not to go,'' said Bruce Summers, owner of Whitetail Cycle & Fitness, a bicycle and kayak outfitters shop in Morgantown where Vance worked.
``He had just gotten married, he was entering a new life,'' Summers said Monday. ``He had to put his life on hold.''
There were no other reports of coalition casualties in the firefight, which started when suspected al-Qaida or Taliban forces engaged U.S. forces with at least small arms fire on Sunday, said Capt. Steven O'Connor, a U.S. military spokesman at Bagram air base north of Kabul.
It was unclear whether there were any casualties on the opposing side.
Summers said Vance was quiet, hardworking and an avid bicyclist who spoke Farsi.
``He was always very even, very friendly. He was very easy to be around,'' he said. ``He was always standing around with a coffee cup in his hand and a smile on his face.''
Vance, 38, of Morgantown, had been stationed in the Middle East for the past five months and had been in the National Guard for 10 years, said Major Mike Cadle, a National Guard spokesman in Charleston.
Vance is survived by his wife Lisa and a daughter.
He was the first member of the West Virginia National Guard to die while on active duty since World War II, Cadle said.
A moment of silence was to be observed Monday at Oceana High School, about 90 miles south of Charleston. Vance graduated from the school in 1981.
``I doubt if any of the students know him, but they need to realize that the war has hit close to home,'' said assistant principal Deirdre Cline, who was a high school classmate of Vance's.
``Everyone who knew Gene liked Gene,'' Cline said. ``He was a person of few words and a good friend to all who knew him.''
Vance's father, Gene Sr., served as a magistrate and later as sheriff of Wyoming County. He died in office about a dozen years ago of cancer, according to a department spokesman.
Vance's father also was an Army major in the Vietnam War and retired in the late 1970s, said Gerry Davis Worley, Vance's high school principal.
``He was an Army kid,'' Worley said. ``He was a very intelligent guy. Most of those Army kids that travel around are more aware. They get a practical education that makes them more aware of what's going on in the world.''
A tattered yellow ribbon was tied to the front door and an American flag flew at Vance's ranch-style house Monday morning in Morgantown, about 60 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
Vance's wife could not be reached Monday. West Virginia Adjutant Gen. Allen Tackett said Lisa Vance was out of town Sunday night. The Vances were married last fall.
U.S. special forces and other coalition soldiers have been searching for Taliban and al-Qaida members throughout eastern Afghanistan. An Australian patrol came under heavy fire near Khost for five hours on Thursday, until American gunships killed 10 people who the coalition said were Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.