In the small towns of Binarville & Remicourt, France, October 6 & 7, 2009, over 200 persons including many dignitaries, guests, and military attended the ceremonies from as far away as Germany, Louisiana, Kansas, Illinois, Maryland, Connecticut, North Carolina & New Hampshire to memorialize the first U.S. Air Service airmen of the 50th Aero Squadron to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War I, Lts. Harold Goettler & Erwin Bleckley.
At a graveside ceremony on October 6th at the burial site of Lt. Bleckley in the American Military Cemetery, Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, members of the Kansas & Illinois National Guard, headed by Deputy Adjutant General Deborah Rose and LTC James McCabe, respectively, Mrs. Nancy Erwin, niece of Lt. Bleckley alongside Mrs. Joan Starr, niece of Lt. Goettler, respects were given. After the ceremony, the families visited the Cemetery Chapel. Mrs. Starr was accompanied by her two sons, David and Jeffrey, and Mrs. Erwin by her husband, M/Gen. Ralph Dean Erwin (USAF Ret.).
The entire traveling delegation of some 25 persons, afterwards, visited the site of the "Lost Battalion", 77th Division, AEF, in the Argonne Forest and were hosted by the Town of Binarville for a ceremony at the site with honors being given by both the Town and the respective families. A reception attended by 75 persons was held at the Town Hall with champagne and refreshments prepared by the local French citizens. In company of Gilles Lagin, the person who single handedly finally located last year the crash site of the 50th Aero Squadron plane #6, in which Goettler & Bleckley were killed, just outside the Town of Binarville, a memorial wreath and flags were placed by the Kansas Guard and the families.
The Mayor of Remicourt and the League of WWI Aviation Historians hosted an invitation dinner for the local Town Councils, dignitaries, and guests in the petite Remicourt restaurant, Grain-de-Sel with more of the local Epernay famous champagne served. Fifty persons attended.
On October 7th in the bright sunshine, the formal ceremony was held in Remicourt, some 60 km south of the crash site, at the Town Hall at 11 AM. The American and French National Anthems were played to start the ceremony. Col. Robert Dooley, U.S. Air Attache, Paris; Serge Barcellini, Director of the History Council, Department of the Meuse; Ms. Francoise Duchein, Council General, Department of the Marne; Mayor Ghislain Deketele; Jerry L. Hester, Event Organizer, WWI Aviation Historians; and Alain Deketele, French Event Assistant Organizer were on the podium introducing guests, reciting in both French & English from a letter by Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), introducing dignitaries and guests as well as presenting a gift to the Town of a scale model of the DH-4 Liberty aircraft #16, 50th Aero Squadron, that was crewed by Lts. Rogers and Anderson to finally locate the "Lost Battalion" on October 8, 1918. Also presented were the History of the 50th Squadron, archives and ceremony memorabilia for the Town records.
Jerry Hester and Steve Ruffin in front of an SE-5.
A permanent bronze plaque describing the exploits of the aviators was placed on the Town Hall wall as a memorial with wreaths laid by Kansas Guard, Illinois Guard, the families, the WWI Aviation Historians and the Town. USAF Europe 86th Air Wing Honor Color Guard along with French bugle corps and colors were present. A release of 50 memorial flight pigeons was made in memory of all the aviators who gave their lives in WWI. In conclusion, a SE5.a vintage aircraft, flown by top French aerial pilot, Jack Krine, flew from the exact Remicourt Aerodrome airfield site used by the 50th Aero Squadron. It was thrilling and added much realism to the entire event. Immediately following, the towns of Remicourt & nearby Givry hosted an elaborate champagne reception for 200 persons. The Consul General of the Marne, Ms. Francoise Duchein, presented gifts to Kansas Guard, Illinois Guard, Jerry Hester, and other guests. The American Battle Monument Commission, European Area, was involved in all the events and has listed Remicourt Aerodrome as part of the American WWI sites in the Meuse-Argonne region. (The Meuse-Argonne region in France is a very hilly area with numerous valleys. Making it tedious for troops to move and relocate their position, this area's geography played a huge roll in the battles. The land layout and moving abilities of troops is a major factor in war tactics.)
As a result of the extensive research over 2 years, the importance of the site in the U.S. Air Service history as being the first awarded Medals of Honor to American Aviators in WWI, the first Medal of Honor to a Kansas National Guard, Lt. Bleckley, Wichita, KS, airman and the permanent memorialization done, Remicourt Aerodrome is being considered by the French Government as a World Heritage Site for the 100th Anniversary of WWI. It has also been cited as the standard to which future events and memorials of this type should be done. The French Government is planning a new major interactive type joint Franco-American WWI Museum in the Meuse Region as part of their 100th Anniversary. This effort is to be funded at a very high level. More inter-governmental liaison will be forthcoming to make this happen. Some 75 U.S. and French citizens worked on this international effort and made the history come alive in a way heretofore not even imagined when it first became evident that there was no memorial to these brave aviators. Contact: Jerry L. Hester, E-mail. Phone: 336/750-0032.
The League of WWI Aviation Historians periodical "Over The Front" Summer 2010 issue is devoted exclusively to the 50th Aero Squadron, the exploits of Medal of Honor awardees, Lts. Goettler and Bleckley and the Remicourt Event, 96 pages. This will be a collector's "not be be missed" issue. Articles by Steve Ruffin, Robert Laplander and Jerry Hester as well as original artwork by Mike O'Neal will be featured. See www.overthefront.com to order today.
50th Aero Squadron Event at Remicourt, France - October 7, 2009
Harold Goettler & Erwin Bleckley Ceremony - Directions and Agenda
Event organizer Jerry Hester Biography
50th Aero Squadron Remicourt, France - Event Plan