WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — People from all over the country will be in Wichita this weekend to honor a war hero, born and bred right here in Wichita, who lost his life serving our country.
Greg Zuercher is here, the Jr. Vice Commander for VFW post 112, to tell us all about Lieutenant Erwin Bleckley.
For those of us who may not know about him, who is he and why is he important?
Greg Zuercher: Lieutenant Erwin Bleckley was an aviator from right here in Wichita, Kansas. And 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 Battalion,” a group of 500 men.
They flew back to their aerodrome at Ramecourt, France and their airplane was shot up with bullet holes because they were so slow flying. They borrowed another airplane in order to fly back because they were assured that they knew where these guys were located 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.
Who were the Lost Battalion?
Greg Zuercher: The Lost Battalion is the name given to the nine companies of the United States 77th Division, roughly 554 men, isolated by German forces during World War I after an American attack in the Argonne forest in October 1918. Roughly 197 were killed in action and approximately 150 were missing or taken prisoner before the 194 remaining men were rescued.
So how do you guys plan to celebrate Bleckley and his sacrifice?
Greg Zuercher: On Saturday, October 6, 2018, 100 years to the day after the heroic actions of Erwin Bleckley in France, Wichitans, Kansans and people across the nation will gather in Wichita to honor and commemorate this Wichita born and bred hero.
An extensive program will involve Bleckley and Goettler family members and friends, a Bleckley biographer, historians, military leaders and personnel, veterans and re-enactors, Medal of Honor recipients, local and state government officials, the Wichita aviation community, as well as business, civic, media, educational and clergy leaders and members. Many Bleckley artifacts, such as his aviator’s equipment, diary, letters, photos and paintings of him, will be on hand. Efforts are underway to transfer to Wichita, via temporary loan, his medal of honor display from the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
One of your ultimate goals is to have a display in his honor at the Eisenhower Airport?
Greg Zuercher: Yes. He’s a hero. 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.
The Erwin Bleckley commemoration is this Saturday, October 6, 2018 from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. at the VA Auditorium in the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center located at 5500 East Kellogg in Wichita.
Doors open at 8:00 a.m. Seating is limited so get there early.
The event is open to the public.