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Past & Present: The Great War's Mark On Wichita

The Great War, World War I, left its mark on Wichita in a number of ways. We especially see this in the landscape of College Hill and Crown Heights. 

The Veterans Hospital is perhaps the most visible landmark, dedicated just over a decade after the war’s conclusion. It stands at Bleckley Drive, so named after Lt. Erwin Bleckley, the aviator who received the Medal of Honor for his efforts to support the Lost Battalion. Another street that remembers a fallen Great War aviator is Quentin, named after Quentin Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt’s son.

Another World War I landmark is St. James Episcopal Church. The congregation formed in 1920 with the Bleckleys among the founding members. Another founding family were the Doziers. Otis “Pete” Dozier had been a sergeant with the 353 Infantry Regiment of the 89th Division and was wounded in an offensive in late 1918. The man who saved him was a unit chaplain, Fr. Otis Gray. In 1920, when it came time to call a rector for St. James, one name stood out: Fr. Gray. Gray accepted and his efforts included the construction of the current church building in the middle 1920s. Gray himself was a victim of the war, dying in 1930 as a result of complications he received from exposure to poison gas.

Today, the streets of east Wichita are quiet and peaceful, but they still maintain a connection to one of the 20th century’s most brutal conflicts.

Jay M. Price is chair of the department of history at Wichita State University, where he also directs the public history program.