(KAKE) – A big moment for Wichita this Friday: the arrival of a piece of aviation history. It is the only remaining De Havilland DH 4 bomber biplane that flew in WWI. But, this plane has additional significance here. It is an exact replica of the native Wichita plane. Erwin Bleckley and pilot Harold Getler were flying in October 1919. They were on a daring mission to supply a battalion lost behind enemy lines. It was so dangerous, even their commander told them they shouldn’t do it.
Col. Phil Heseltine, the 931st Air Refueling Wing commander at McConnell Air Force Base, said Bleckley and his pilot told their commander, “We will deliver or die in this attempt.”
Erwin and the pilot were shot down. But before they died, they were able to give the allies a map of the battalion’s location, saving the lives of nearly 400 soldiers.
Colonel Heselstine says: “To use the words of William Edinger, ambulance driver and eyewitness to the deaths of Bleckley and Getler,” I consider it the greatest act of bravery I have ever seen. “”
Bleckley and the pilot each won one of four Congressional Medals of Honor awarded in air service during World War I.
The plane will now be refurbished and will become a key part of a memorial in Bleckley planned for Eisenhower Airport.
But, other prize elements of this exhibition were also recently acquired … and in the most unlikely way.
“We were as surprised as anyone to see things literally fall from the sky and land on our knees,” says Grant Schumaker, who is part of the group that put together the Bleckley Memorial.
Schumaker is part of the group that sets up the Bleckley Memorial. His wife thought she would do a Google search on Bleckley and voila, his death certificate in action appeared on e-Bay.
It was sold by collector Ted Rhodes who found it, along with photos of Bleckley as a child and after leaving training camp in Wichita, at an estate sale in Louisiana for one from Bleckley’s parents. Rhodes bought them all for just five dollars.
“The Lady of Columbia certificate that I probably had for two or three years. I never really knew what it was,” Rhodes says.
Then Rhodes did some research and found out that Bleckley was from Wichita, where Rhodes was stationed at McConnell Air Force Base years ago.
Then came Schumaker’s call.
“I told him, ‘You’re probably about $ 45,000 under the market. It’s probably worth over $ 50,000. And then, historically, it’s priceless, “” says Schumaker.
However, Rhodes said, “In the listing I said ‘if you are a museum or something, please contact me and tell me how you are going to display this.'”
And, when Schumaker told him why he wanted it and because of Rhodes’ connection to Wichita, he handed over the certificate and both photos for free. He said it was just the right thing to do.
“Wichita is the aviation capital of the world. And, here you have one of the pioneers of aviation who makes our nation’s highest honor. And, for him to be there and be part of this display, you feel good. You know, this is our place, ”says Rhodes.
The Bleckley Airport Memorial Foundation is in dire need of volunteers and money to restore this plane and get the memorial going.
To find out how you can help, just click here.