Skip Navigation

Levi Jackson Vance

Donald Walter Raese

Soldiers of the Great War

West Virginia
Veterans Memorial


Levi Jackson Vance

Homer Vance

"The [year] 1918 has gone: a year momentous as the termination of the most cruel war in the annals of the human race; a year which marked, the end at least for a time, of man's destruction of man; unfortunately a year in which developed a most fatal infectious disease causing the death of hundreds of thousands of human beings. Medical science for four and one-half years devoted itself to putting men on the firing line and keeping them there. Now it must turn with its whole might to combating the greatest enemy of all: infectious disease. . . ."

Journal of the American Medical Association (28 December 1918)

Abner A. Vance married three times. His first wife was Acantha Browning (1853-1880), known as Cathy. They married in 1877. His second wife was Frances M. Chafin (1867-1891), whom he married in 1880. His third wife was Nancy Belcher (1875-1959), whom he married in 1891. The families lived in Big Creek in Logan County. To the couples were born seventeen children. Homer Vance was born in 1893 and Levi was born in 1896 to Nancy Belcher Vance.

According to 1900 Federal Census records, the family was living in Chapmanville in Logan County. Mr. Vance was a farmer, married to Nancy, and living with seven of his children and a hired farm laborer. Homer and Levi were among those still living at home, ages six and four.

In 1910, according to the census, Mr. Vance was 55 years old and still farming in Logan County. By his side were Mrs. Vance, aged 38, and seven of the children. Homer was 16 years old and living at home but working as a driver of a lumber wagon. One brother, still at home, was also employed as a wagon driver and two other brothers were laboring on the farm. Levi was not at home during this census period.

In 1914, war broke out in Europe. America delayed official involvement until 1917, when it joined Britain, France, and Russia as an ally to their cause. However, well before the official declaration, America sent the American Red Cross ship known as Mercy to Europe with supplies, nurses, and doctors, and many Americans who happened to be traveling or visiting in Europe volunteered in hospitals or in support of troops, especially in France.

When America committed itself to war in 1917, the Vance brothers, Homer and Levi, were among the first to volunteer. ("Soldier Sons Laid to Rest," Logan Banner, 5 August 1921.) Levi Vance's military registration card indicates that he registered on June 5, 1917, in Logan, where he was a farmer. The 21-year-old was described as short and stout with brown eyes and black hair. Homer registered on the same day. He also was a farmer and was described as 23- years-old and of medium height, with brown hair and dark brown eyes. The brothers trained at Camp Lee and shipped overseas in May of 1918. The brothers appear on the passenger manifest for the America, an army transport ship. The ship left from Newport News, Virginia. Levi was listed as passenger No. 61 on the list and Homer as No. 80.

Homer first served with Battery L of the 316th Field Artillery but was a horseshoer with Battery E of the 315th Field Artillery by the time he died. Levi was a private with Battery E of the 315th Field Artillery, until the end.

According to 80th Division Summary of Operations in World War (American Battle Monuments Commission, 1944), the units that shipped out of Newport News on May 18 were the lead units. They arrived in France at Brest at the end of May. The units of the 80th were split up to serve at the front with British and French units. The 80th had casualties by the week of July 22.

In September, attention turned to the Meuse-Argonne, where the final Allied offensive would take place. Over one million U.S. soldiers participated. There were 120,000 casualties and 26,000 were killed. For the blood and toil, this deadliest campaign ended the war. The battle was fought from September 26 through November 11, 1918, when the Armistice was signed. ("The Meuse-Argonne Offensive," National Archives, accessed 30 August 2021,

The 80th Division Summary of Operations in World War does not mention the other war that was also taking its own casualties, and that was the war with influenza.

The toll of the influenza on the military is noteworthy for the results of the illnesses and deaths, including manpower shortages and impacts to performance. According to Michael Shurkin's article "Pandemics and the U.S. Military: Lessons from 1918":

Sick soldiers could not report for training or for duty, while weakened soldiers performed badly. Low unit morale likewise undermined effectiveness. Commanders who called for units to replace those lost to attrition found there were fewer replacements than what they had asked for. Moreover, weakened and undertrained soldiers would have done poorly in combat, suggesting that more soldiers were wounded or killed than might otherwise have been the case. Once hospitalized, many sick or wounded perished because the combined influx of flu cases and battle casualties overwhelmed the medical system. No one knows how much better American, British, and French units might have performed fending off the German spring offensive if they had been healthy. Likewise, it's unknown how much better the American Expeditionary Forces might have performed during the Meuse-Argonne offensive, which coincided with the pandemic's lethal second wave and was one of the bloodiest campaigns ever fought by the U.S. military. (War on the Rocks, 1 April 2020, accessed 29 August 2021,

According to the article "Worldwide Flu Outbreak Killed 45,000 American Soldiers during World War I," American combat deaths in World War I totaled 53,402, with another 45,000 military personnel dead of the flu or related illnesses, such as pneumonia in 1918. (Eric Durr, U.S. Army, 31 August 2018, accessed 29 August 2021, With such numbers, it would seem that any discussion of the war would have to include the impacts of the illnesses attributed to the flu.

In September, the Vance brothers were ill. Levi died on September 26, 1918 (alternate sources state the date as the 25th or the 27th), the first day of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Homer died on October 2, 1918. Though their deaths were directly caused by lobar pneumonia, the adjutant general's report for Levi Vance states that the cause of death was the flu. The brothers were buried in the American Cemetery in Souilly, Meuse, France. In West Virginia, public health officials closed schools, churches, dance halls, and most public gathering places. Funeral services were curtailed, limited to small gatherings, or not held at all. It's estimated that 500,000 people in the United States died of the flu during the years 1918-1920, which encompasses the three waves of infections. In only one month in West Virginia in 1918, during the peak of the flu, 2,818 people died. (Bishop Nash, "100 Years Ago, ‘Spanish' Influenza Outbreak Killed Thousands in WV," Herald-Dispatch, 3 December 2018, accessed 29 August 2021,

In April 1921, the Vance brothers were disinterred and returned to West Virginia. Homer and Levi Vance's remains were placed aboard the Wheaton, which left Europe on June 19, 1921, and arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey, on July 2. However, the bodies arrived in Logan a week apart, on July 23 and July 30. They were buried during the same funeral service in the Vance Hilltop Cemetery in Big Creek, Logan County, on July 31, 1921. ("Soldier Sons Laid to Rest," Logan Banner, 5 August 1921.) A photo of the funeral shows two caskets with a gap between them. In the gap sits Reverend Dyke Garrett, with family and members of the community standing behind the caskets and Reverend Garrett.
The Vance funeral, 1921. Courtesy Connie Baisden Marsh

The Vance funeral, 1921. Courtesy Connie Baisden Marsh

Homer and Levi's deaths in France were the first of a series of Vance family tragedies. Levi and Homer's brother, Doc Vance, died in 1920 of a self-inflicted injury. Celia Vance, their sister, was eleven years old when she was hit by a train. She died of shock and hemorrhage in 1924. Abner Vance, another brother, died in 1924. A death certificate was not found which might have explained his death, but a family tree found on records the event. The same year, another brother, Thomas Edison Vance, a lineman, died of injuries sustained during a fall from a light pole. Mr. and Mrs. Vance lost six children in the span of six years. A sorrowful time in American history came to a sorrowful conclusion for the Vance family in the 1920s.

Article prepared by Cynthia Mullensa
August 2021



West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.

Veterans Memorial Database

West Virginia Veterans Memorial

West Virginia Archives and History

West Virginia Archives and History