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Bonds that never die

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Family receives photo it had not seen

By John Barnhart

    Soldiers in combat often form close bonds that last for life, and sometimes after death.

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    This was true of some men who served under First Lieutenant Elmer Nance. Lt. Nance, a younger brother of Bill Nance and the uncle that Commonwealth’s Attorney Wes Nance never met, was killed in action on May 6, 1968.
    Lt. Nance also received the Silver Star. It was awarded posthumously.
    His platoon’s position was being overrun by North Vietnamese troops and Lt. Nance held off the attackers, allowing his men to escape. He survived, but was killed a few days later in a mortar attack on his base camp — thus the posthumous award.
    Elmer Nance grew up on a Bedford County tobacco farm. The farm also raised beef cattle and some dairy cattle. The family sold milk from these cows.
    According to Bill Nance, his brother was a hard worker. In high school, he had a job milking a neighboring farmer’s cows, twice a day, seven days a week.
    “He milked them at six o’clock every morning and six o’clock every evening,” Bill Nance said.
    Sometimes things didn’t go smoothly and that made him late for homeroom at Moneta High School. Bill said Elmer’s homeroom teacher chided him, telling him that being tardy would not look good after graduation when he would start looking for a job. Elmer wasn’t worried as he planned to use his farmer employer as a reference.
    With the Vietnam War draft at its peak, Elmer Nance was sure he would be drafted. He decided that, rather than waiting, he would enlist so he could go in on his own terms. He enlisted with a guarantee of officer candidate school, graduated and received a commission as an infantry officer.
    A man named Alvah Sizemore, who had been Lt. Nance’s radio man, had contacted Nance’s mother, after Nance’s death, and provided her with photos of him from Vietnam.
    Then, late this year, a member of Lt. Nance’s platoon who the Nances only know as “Sloop” contacted a Nance cousin living in Forest. He had a photo, the last ever taken of Lt. Nance. It was taken the day before he was killed.
    “Sloop” was looking for Lt. Nance’s son, Mike Delong. Delong’s mother, a young widow, remarried and Mike’s stepfather adopted him while he was still a small child, thus the name change.
     “Sloop” had started looking for Nances in Bedford County, figuring that they were probably related. He had been in contact with Delong 20 years ago, but lost contact with him. He wanted to get the photo to Delong in time for Veterans Day.
    “Nobody in the family had seen that photo,” said Bill Nance.
    “It meant so much, not only to my dad, but to his surviving brother, Louis and his family and me and my family,” said Wes Nance.