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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   Oct. 7, 2009

No. 09-109

Heroic WWI Kansas National Guardsman honored in France Wednesday

By Sharon Watson,
Public Affairs Office

Kansas National Guard members joined the community of Remicourt, France, Wednesday, Oct. 7, for a ceremony honoring Lt. Erwin Bleckley, a former Kansas Guardsman, who died Oct. 6, 1918, in a heroic effort to rescue the American 77th Division, “Lost Battalion” during World War I.

“We’re proud to have had Lieutenant Bleckley serve in the Kansas National Guard,” said Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting, Kansas adjutant general. “This important ceremony honored the memory of a great American and very deserving Kansan for the greatest sacrifice anyone can ever make.”

Bleckley, one of the 50th Aero Squadron heroes, joined the Kansas National Guard’s 130th Field Artillery Regiment in 1917, volunteering for forward observation duty with the Army Air Service.

Brig. Gen. Deborah Rose, director of the Joint Force Headquarters, Kansas National Guard, greeted members of Bleckley’s family Oct. 6 to place a wreath at Bleckley’s grave site and the site where his plane crashed.

Rose was joined by retired Lt. Col. Doug Jacobs, command historian of the Museum of the Kansas National Guard, and soldiers and airmen of the Kansas National Guard.

On Oct. 7, the city of Remicourt hosted the 91st anniversary ceremony to honor Bleckey and his pilot, Harold Goettler, who flew a fatal mission that may have provided key information, perhaps a map, to troops that would later help them locate the battalion that was surrounded by German troops.

Bleckley received a Medal of Honor for his heroic efforts and was inducted into the Kansas National Guard’s Hall of Fame in 1997. Jacobs recommended Bleckley for the Guard's Hall of Fame.

“It’s truly an honor to be a part of this ceremony to recognize Lieutenant Bleckley and to be able to personally thank his family for the sacrifices he and they have made for our country,” said Rose.

Bleckley’s niece, Nancy Erwin and her husband, Shreveport, La., and Goettler’s niece, Joan Starr, Connecticut, along with her two sons, attended the wreath laying, site visits and the ceremony in Remicourt.

“It’s been very gratifying to think that I could represent my grandmother,” said Erwin who says her family didn’t talk much about her uncle and while she knew what had happened to him, as a child she couldn’t comprehend what good it did.

“Suddenly, at some point in my young years, I realized, I pulled it together: I wouldn’t be here today, my family wouldn’t be here today, if there weren’t young men who were willing to do this, to give their lives in defense of liberty,” Erwin noted.

During the ceremony, a plaque was dedicated to the city of Remicourt and will be displayed permanently outside of the mayor’s office to recognize the heroics of Bleckley and Goettler and others who served with them.

“It’s critical we remember those who served and ensure they are recognized in the history books for their heroic actions,” said Jacobs. “Without the research and documentation of Oct. 6, 1918, we wouldn’t know how critical Lieutenant Bleckley and Lieutenant Goettler were in saving so many of the lives of their comrades.”

Jacobs has lobbied for Bleckley to be recognized for many years and has spent hours researching the events to ensure he is properly honored.

Staff Sgt. Rachel Ringgenberg of the 184th Intelligence Wing, Kansas National Guard, was one of several Guardsmen who participated in the events in France. She once lived on Bleckley Drive in Wichita, but didn’t know anything about the lieutenant.

“I feel honored and privileged that I got to come and see this,” Ringgenberg said. “I’m just very thankful, very proud to be a part of the Air Guard.”

Master Sgt. William Gilliand, historian at the 190th Air Refueling Wing in Topeka, has been interested in Bleckley’s story for many years and didn’t think he would be able to go to France to see the historic sites.

“It was really exciting to be able to be in the same places and be able to sort of walk in his footsteps in a way,” said Gilliand. “When you have that sort of connection it’s just a thrill. That’s really the only way to describe it.”

Jerry Hester organized the event to honor all Remicourt – Aerodrome World War I aviators and specifically Bleckley and Goettler, who departed from Remicourt for their ill-fated mission. He serves as a member of the League of World War I Aviation Historian.

Hester is urging many to plan and participate in a 100th anniversary celebration honoring the Aerodrome aviators in 2018 in France.

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