100 years ago today, a man from Wichita
Here we see “The Highest Possible Courage,” by John D. Shaw, courtesy of the U.S. National Guard Bureau. It depicts the last moments of 2LT Erwin Russell Bleckley, the first of three National Guard aviators to receive the Medal of Honor during the 20th Century. They gave the medal to his family.
A Wichita bank teller by trade, Bleckly joined the Kansas Guard in June 1917, aged 22, and soon found himself attached to the federalized 130th Field Artillery, which was part of the newly-formed 35th Infantry Division. Volunteering to be seconded as an artillery observer to the 50th Aero Squadron once “Over There” in France, he was in the air in a DH-4 attempting to locate and resupply by air the famous “Lost Battalion,” some 554 men of the 77th Infantry that were trapped by German forces in the Argonne over the first week of October 1918.
Bleckley’s MOH citation:
2d Lt. Bleckley, with his pilot, 1st Lt. Harold E. Goettler, Air Service, left the airdrome late in the afternoon on their second trip to drop supplies to a battalion of the 77th Division, which had been cut off by the enemy in the Argonne Forest. Having been subjected on the first trip to violent fire from the enemy, they attempted on the second trip to come still lower in order to get the packages even more precisely on the designated spot. In the course of his mission the plane was brought down by enemy rifle and machine gun fire from the ground, resulting in fatal wounds to 2d Lt. Bleckley, who died before he could be taken to a hospital. In attempting and performing this mission 2d Lt. Bleckley showed the highest possible contempt of personal danger, devotion to duty, courage, and valor.
As noted by the Guard, “Goettler was dead when the French troops reached him. Bleckley died before the French could evacuate him to a medical aid station. However, his notes from the mission narrowed the search area where the trapped soldiers might be found.”
Of the Lost Battalion, only 194 walked out unwounded after a relief force linked up with them on October 8.