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Honor a Wichita WWI Hero
Erwin Bleckley’s courage endures and inspires to this day. 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. If any local military figure deserves fitting recognition at our airport, it is Bleckley.
The centerpiece of the Bleckley Airport Memorial will be the DH-4 shown above, displayed inside our airport, the main part of a larger exhibit about Bleckley. This memorial 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.
Why The Aircraft Is SpecialThis 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. This is the only aircraft identical to the one in which two Congressional Medal of Honor awards were earned at the same time.
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Wichita has an opportunity that few cities will ever have.
One that fits perfectly with our City’s self-image and aviation heritage. The world’s only original DH-4 World War 1 aircraft is available to purchase. 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.
The centerpiece of the Bleckley Airport Memorial will be this DH-4, displayed inside our airport, the main part of a larger exhibit about Bleckley. This memorial 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.
Just how historic is this aircraft? 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. This is the only aircraft identical to the one in which two Congressional Medal of Honor awards were earned at the same time.
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 that day 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 sortie, 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 wrote out his will before takeoff. When warned by squadron commander Captain Daniel P. 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.”
Our first priority is to secure approval and endorsement from the City of Wichita. Two unanimous votes (both 7 – 0) have occurred so far. The first vote was by the Wichita Airport Advisory Board on June 1st, and the second on June 16th by the Wichita City Council – conditional upon meeting the standards set by the Design Council, original architectural, structural engineering and general contractor firms. The specific language allows the private acquisition and display inside Eisenhower Airport for this one-of-a-kind aircraft. Dr. Thom Rosenberg, the immediate past chairman of the Airport Advisory Board, gave us his endorsement and on his own initiative a one thousand dollar pledge, which we board members will match. We are actively engaged with airport manager and all entities that have a stake in our airport. We seek partnership with our City, the aviation and business sector, the military, local and national historians/collectors and the citizens of Wichita.
Our top priority is to first secure title to the Bleckley aircraft, then move onto the memorial. We have allocated three years to accomplish this goal, and have set a dedication day for March 23, 2023 – the exact centennial of Bleckley’s Medal of Honor presentation here in Wichita. Our overall intention is to honor Bleckley and enhance Wichita’s identity and reputation as the ‘Air Capital of the World’.
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 have three weeks left to raise the funds for this aircraft acquisition. Rest assured, every nickel donated will go directly to the Bleckley Airport Memorial. All personnel are unpaid volunteers. With your commitment, we progress closer to bringing the Bleckley DH-4 to Wichita – where it belongs in perpetuity.
—The Bleckley Airport Memorial Foundation
Erwin R. Bleckley
Bleckley was a United States Army aviator during World War I, and posthumous recipient of the Medal of Honor, killed in action on October 6, 1918, during an attempt to supply the Lost Battalion.
Erwin is Wichita’s only aviation Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. He was born, raised, educated and lived his entire life in Wichita.
Bleckley volunteered for air service knowing it was an extremely risky branch of the US Army. He volunteered to return on a second mission to locate and resupply the Lost Battalion, knowing he would likely not survive.