Leon Robert Vance, Jr. was born in Enid, Oklahoma on August 11, 1916. After high school, he entered the United States Military Academy, West Point and graduated with the class of 1939. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the infantry branch.
Vance requested transfer to the Air Corps and was accepted for pilot training. He earned his wings along with a promotion to First Lieutenant on June 21, 1940. With the rapid promotions for existing officers as the United States expanded her military for World War II, he was promoted up to Lieutenant Colonel by September 1943 and was named the Deputy Commander of the United States Army Air Forces‘ 489th Bombardment Group (Heavy).