Commemorating the First World War Centennial in Kansas

Medal of Honor: Erwin R. Bleckley

The Medal of Honor is credited as being received by two Kansans during World War I.  This is not quite true; two Kansans are recognized because they were residents of Kansas when they performed the duties for which they received the Medal.  Five others had a Kansas connection, and for these seven, we would like to give some brief recognition.

First up is 2nd Lt. Erwin Russell Bleckley, born in Wichita on December 30, 1894.  On June 6, 1917, Bleckley enlisted as a private in the Kansas National Guard, assigned to Battery F of the 1st Field Artillery, which became the 130th Field Artillery of the 35th Division.  He wanted to be a pilot, but family objections brought him to the artillery.  Upon arriving in France, there was a need for aerial observers, and Bleckley volunteered and was attached to the 50th Aero Squadron.

Bleckley flew his first mission on September 12, 1918.  The 50th became involved in the search for the “Lost Battalion,” which had been cut off from the supply lines.  Part of the mission of the 50th was dropping supplies for the Battalion.  On October 6 Bleckley and pilot 1st Lt. Harold E. Goettler were dropping supplies when Goettler was shot and killed.  The plane crashed, and Bleckley was fatally injured.  Both men would receive the Medal of Honor.  Bleckley is buried at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France.

A more detailed account can be found here:

Blair Tarr is the Museum Curator of the Kansas State Historical Society. He oversees the three-dimensional collections of the Society, but has special interests in the Civil War, Wichita-made Valentine diners, and Leavenworth's Abernathy Furniture. In the last few years he has also done a lot of cramming on The Great War. He is a past president of the Kansas Museums Association and the Civil War Round Tables of both Kansas City and Eastern Kansas. He is currently a board member of the Heritage League of Greater Kansas City.

1 Comment

  1. The dropping of supplies by the 50th Aero Squadron to combat troops on the ground is on October 5th and 6th significant because it is the first time the air service attempted it. It should be noted that air resupply was initially used in the Mexican Boarder crisis to troops but not while engaged in combat. Very little was known about the process of dropping supplies at 125 miles per hour with light packages behind the prop wash. It is written that the 50th failed to get packages to the “Lost Battalion,” however, it is well documented that the packages feel into the hands of the Germans who were occupying the location where the “Lost Battalion” was suppose to be. So the argument could be made that they did accomplish their mission and soldiers got the supplies, they were just the wrong soldiers. It was reported by a soldier, from the unit, that they did retrieve a few of the packages but they paid a high cost for them. The biggest success by the 50th attempts was that it gave the unit HOPE, knowing someone was trying to resupply them.

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