This is part of a Yahoo News series honoring some of the American lives lost to COVID-19. Their stories are told by family and friends, who were left to deal with their often sudden and painful deaths.
Retired Lt. James D. Vance, 52, of Princeton, W.Va., died on Jan. 1, 2021, following a month-long battle with COVID-19. He’s among hundreds of thousands of Americans who have lost their lives to the disease since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020.
James was loved by his family, friends and his community. His wife, Jerri Vance, told Yahoo News he always had a smile on his face and “didn’t know a stranger.” She says he was very selfless, and he dedicated his life to serving others.
After graduating from high school, James enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. Unfortunately, a knee injury cut his military career short. After his medical discharge in 1993, he became a dispatcher, then a police officer with the City of Bluefield. He proudly moved up the ranks from patrolman, to corporal, to sergeant, finally retiring as lieutenant in June 2020.
“The day he got promoted to lieutenant was probably the proudest that I ever saw him of himself,” said Jerri.
After 23 years of service, James decided to retire early to spend more time with his family.
Jerri says he was a loving and dedicated husband and “a great girl dad” who didn’t miss a soccer game or dance recital.
“Our girls have tried pretty much every activity from marching band to cross country, and no matter what it is, he didn’t miss. He did as much with the girls as I do. There was no, ‘Oh, that's a mom thing.’ He helped us with homework. He [helped] us with laundry. He took them places. He took them to practices and games. He was just a good dad.” she said.
The pain of losing her husband, Jerri says, has been “indescribable,” but she has found comfort in the way her community has honored James. “Our community has been amazing. … We had a community candlelight vigil, and I've gotten so many messages and letters.”
Jerri told Yahoo News that it’s important for her to tell her story because she doesn’t want her husband to become a statistic.
“I think these stories are important because over 400,000 Americans have lost their lives to this and they're not just a number; they're not a statistic. I do know that [James’s passing marked 1,502 deaths] in West Virginia, because our governor announces them every day, but I don't want him known as 1,502. I want him known and remembered as Lieutenant James Vance, who everyone loved, and for that smile on his face.”
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