Veterans look to honor Wichitan killed in WWI

Local

A group of veterans is looking to honor a late Wichita hero who lost his life serving our country in WWI.

Their goal is to have a display in his honor added to the Eisenhower Airport. 

Erwin Bleckley died on October 6, 1918, but his legacy has left a lasting impact on several people here in the community. 

And, on the 100 year anniversary of his death, they are hoping to share his story so that his sacrifices won’t be forgotten. 

“He really is a hero,” said Greg Zuercher, junior vice commander for VFW Post 112. “He’s the real deal, a man with a lot of character, a lot of courage, and it’s a story that needs to be told.”

That is the story of Bleckley, a second lieutenant with the field artillery and aero squadron in WWI. 

“Native born and bred, aviation Medal of Honor recipient,” said Zuercher of Bleckley. “He’s the only one.”

That honor didn’t come without sacrifice. 

The award dates back to his actions on October 6th, 1918, when Bleckley and pilot Harold Goettler were on their second mission to provide supplies for American troops surrounded by German military during WWI, also known as the “Lost Batallion,” a group of 500 men. 

“They flew back to their aerodrome at Ramecourt, France and their airplane was all shot up with bullet holes because they were so slow flying,” said Doug Jacobs, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army. “They borrowed another airplane in order to fly back because they were assured that they knew where these guys were located at and wanted to go back and do the resupply mission.”

That decision cost them their lives after Goettler was shot and Bleckley wasn’t able to prevent the plane from crashing. 

But their efforts weren’t without impact. The maps Bleckley marked, helped pinpoint the Lost Battalion, saving 194 lives.

“That one individual from Wichita, Kansas, helped save all of those people,” said Jacobs. “And, who knows what their story is? Who knows where those sons and grandsons and granddaughters- what happened to them? How did they affect the world?”

KSN spoke with the director of Eisenhower Airport. 

He said he is open to hearing about the idea of adding a display for Bleckley at the airport, but he would need more information before deciding whether to move forward with it. 

There will also be a ceremony at the Wichita VA on October 6th to look back on his life. 

It’ll be open to the public. 

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