Why Erwin Bleckley and what is notable about him?
Bleckley is Wichita’s only aviation Medal of Honor recipient. He was born and raised in Wichita, and is our city’s greatest aviation hero. Erwin Bleckley’s courage endures and inspires to this day. If any local military figure deserves fitting recognition at our airport, it is Bleckley.
Bleckley served in World War I, and participated in the three most famous events (from an American perspective) from that war: 1) the US Army Air Service; 2) the Meuse-Argonne Offensive that ended that conflict and 3) the Lost Battalion. His last flight has gone down in history as the most legendary, written, discussed and painted flight of all the Air Service missions conducted in WWI.
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The Medal of Honor Mission
Bleckley is legendary because he volunteered for a second, much riskier mission that fatal day, in a borrowed DH-4 (his assigned aircraft was grounded due to receiving too many enemy hits). All squadron mission sorties on Oct. 6, 1918 were terrifying ordeals, as each one received significant enemy fire. In his search for the Lost Battalion, Bleckley thought he caught a glimpse of the unit during his first mission, which led him to volunteer to return in the late afternoon. That mission was to locate, map and resupply the Lost Battalion. His strategy: fly lower and slower to purposely attract enemy fire to pinpoint the besieged American unit’s position.
Bleckley’s Medal of Honor is very rare in that it was earned not just in the heat of the moment but with deliberation and premeditation. Bleckley knew he wasn’t coming back, so he updated his will before takeoff. When warned by squadron commander Captain Daniel Morse of the great danger facing him, Bleckley replied “we’ll make the delivery or die in the attempt.” William Ettinger, an American ambulance driver and eyewitness to Bleckley’s last flight, said “I consider it the greatest act of bravery that I’ve ever seen.”
Why honor Bleckley at Eisenhower National Airport, and why now?
Wichita has an opportunity that may never pass our way again. One that few American cities will ever have, which fits perfectly with our City’s self-image and aviation heritage. The world’s only original DH-4 World War 1 aircraft is coming home to Wichita. It is identical to the same make, model and markings in which Wichita native Erwin Bleckley flew on his last flight. The only airports in the United States that currently have an aircraft displayed to honor a local Medal of Honor aviator are in Chicago for Eddie ‘Butch’ O’Hare and at Phoenix for Frank Luke. Wichita is the only remaining American city with the chance to do likewise.
This aircraft was restored to the exact specifications of the aircraft that Bleckley flew on his Medal of Honor mission. Bleckley and this aircraft are Wichita’s most significant contribution to its WW1 aviation history. The original owner’s goal was to fly this biplane to honor those brave pilots from WW1. But on May 2nd, the entire mission for this historic aircraft changed. During its initial test flight, the DH-4 was airborne, experienced control issues, suffered a hard landing and incurred some structural damage. Wichita was offered the first right of refusal to buy this aircraft. We decided to act, and the contract to purchase this aircraft was finalized July 30, 2020.
Why is this aircraft so special?
This aircraft is historic for several reasons. The FAA considered this airplane to be the ONLY original American built airworthy military DH-4 left in the world. It has its original Liberty engine, including the original controls and instruments. The military markings include Bleckley’s 50th Aero Squadron insignia, his #6 tail number and the original 1918 manufactured data plate with Bleckley’s aircraft serial number 32517. Almost 10,000 man hours were invested in the research and restoration of this Medal of Honor aircraft. This is the only aircraft identical to the one in which two Congressional Medal of Honor awards were earned at the same time.
The Bleckley Airport Memorial
The centerpiece of the Bleckley Airport Memorial will be this DH-4, displayed at our airport complex. It will serve as the main part of a larger exhibit about Bleckley. This Medal of Honor plane will fly as a living memorial to Bleckley and crew mate Harold Goettler. The rest of the memorial will be housed inside the airport terminal, and will include a life size bronze statue of Bleckley in his aviator’s uniform, his Congressional Medal of Honor, as well as many original artifacts, documents and photos. This will include the original signed letter of condolence from General John J. Pershing to Bleckley’s parents, and an original program from his Medal of Honor presentation at the old Wichita Forum on March 23, 1923.
Short and long term priorities
Our top priority is raising funds necessary to bring the aircraft to Wichita for restoration to flight status. Our overall intention is to honor Bleckley and enhance Wichita’s identity and reputation as the ‘Air Capital of the World’.
Honoring our state and city’s greatest military figures at our airport
Wichita can share its pride with its citizens and visitors as they pass through our airport by completing this unfinished business. The Air Capital of the World can honor its greatest aviation hero by presenting Bleckley’s aircraft and memorial at this most fitting venue. We have honored the greatest military figure and statesman our state has ever produced, by naming our airport for Dwight Eisenhower. How fitting it would be to honor one of the greatest examples of courage Wichita has ever produced with a proper display for Bleckley at the same location?
We Need Your Help
Since we are a legally recognized 501(c)(3) non profit entity, we depend solely on your tax deductible donations. Rest assured, every nickel donated will go directly to the Bleckley Airport Memorial. All personnel are unpaid volunteers. Donations can be made by clicking the ‘donate’ button or by sending a check to ‘Bleckley Airport Memorial Foundation’ at our post office box address listed below. We invite any questions or suggestions you may have. We are available to schedule a personal appointment if you prefer. With your commitment, we progress closer to creating a home for the Bleckley Medal of Honor plane and memorial in Wichita – where it belongs in perpetuity.
Bleckley Airport Memorial Foundation
The Bleckley team is led by:
native Kansan and Bleckley biographer Doug Jacobs (retired Army Lt. Colonel),
native Wichitan, Captain Grant Schumaker (retired commercial airline pilot for Eastern and Alaska Airlines) and
native Wichitan Greg Zuercher (Afghanistan/Iraq War Army Veteran, West Point Service Academy Selection Board member for the 4th Congressional District and former commander of Erwin R. Bleckley VFW Post 112).