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b. 30/12/1894 Wichita, Kansas. d. 06/10/1918 Binarville, France.


DATE OF MOH ACTION: 06/10/1918 Binarville, France.


On June 6, 1917, Bleckley, then a bank teller with the 4th National Bank of Wichita, enlisted as a private in the Kansas National Guard, joining Battery F, 1st Field Artillery, the second man to enlist, according to the unit commander. On July 5, 1917, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Field Artillery. A month later, on August 5, his unit was called into Federal service. The 1st FA was then reorganized into the 130th Field Artillery at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, as part of the 35th Infantry Division.


Bleckley had expressed a desire to become a pilot, but his family objected and he became an artilleryman. When he arrived in France in March 1918, the Air Service of the American Expeditionary Force, then organizing, announced a need for artillery officers to train as aerial observers. Bleckley volunteered, graduated from the observer school at Tours, France, and was attached to the 50th Aero Squadron on August 14, 1918. At that time the 50th, known as the "Dutch Girl" squadron from the commercial logo of a scouring cleanser painted on the sides of their airplanes, was based at Amanty aerodrome and had 14 pilots, nine observers including Bleckley, and 18 de Havilland DH-4 aircraft, which the crews called "Libertys" after their American-made Liberty engines.


On September 2, 1918, in preparation for the St. Mihiel Offensive, the squadron moved to Behonne aerodrome, near Bar-le-Duc to support the V Corps of the First U.S. Army. However a few days later they were shifted to Bicqueley aerodrome, to provide support to the 82nd and 90th Divisions of the I Corps. While arriving at their new base, the squadron lost a pilot and mechanic killed in a landing accident.


Bleckley, known as "Bleck" and popular in his squadron, flew his first combat mission at 05:30 a.m. Of September 12, 1918, the first day of the offensive, which was the first coordinated, large-scale employment of Air Service airpower. Flying observer for flight leader 1st Lt. Harold E. "Dad" Goettler in aircraft number 2, the mission supported the advance of the 90th Division, and was the first of several that resulted in a recommendation for promotion to 1st lieutenant for Bleckley on September 17.


On September 24, the squadron again relocated, this time to Remicourt, aerodrome of the I Corps Observation Group. On September 26, 1918, supporting the 77th Division, the 50th Aero Squadron flew its first missions of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive with a complement of 15 pilots, 15 observers, and 16 Liberties. At the beginning of October, units of the 308th Infantry Regiment were cut off and surrounded by German troops. Able to communicate with division headquarters only by carrier pigeon, the battalion-sized force inadvertently supplied division headquarters with incorrect coordinates of its location. As early as October 2 the 50th Aero Squadron searched for signs of the cut-off battalion, and on October 5, the division commander, Maj. Gen. Robert Alexander, requested that the 50th Aero Squadron locate and resupply the "Lost Battalion" by air with ammunition, rations, and medical supplies. Four attempts to pinpoint the location were unsuccessful in increasingly bad weather.


On October 6, the 50th flew 13 additional missions, ultimately having three aircraft shot down, in what the USAF has termed the first combat airlift in history.[1] In addition to supplies, the 50th attempted to drop two baskets of carrier pigeons to the 308th, using small parachutes from flares to soften the descent. The first resupply mission, flown by Lt.s Floyd M. Pickrell and Alfred C. George, took off shortly before noon in poor visibility. The DH-4 of Lt.s Maurice F. Graham and James E. McCurdy returned from the last mission with McCurdy seriously wounded by a bullet through the neck, but also with confirmation that the location given by the lost battalion was incorrect and occupied by German forces.




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 machinegun 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.




Erwin Russell Bleckley