By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
A Yukon woman this week presented to the Yukon Veterans Museum a unique World War I flag that her late uncle brought back to the U.S.
Betty Cernosek gifted this once-forgotten flag that flew in France more than 100 years ago during WW I. It will be on display at the veterans’ museum inside the American Legion Building, 1010 W Main.
Cernosek’s uncle, Army veteran William P. (Bill) Blecha (March 30, 1895 – May 3, 1989), brought the four-star flag back with him to Oklahoma after the war.
“It is an unusual flag with its four stars and I’m sorry I don’t know what it represents,” Cernosek told fellow Spanish Cove residents during a Monday morning presentation.
“Someone has suggested that perhaps it was outside the tent of a four-star general, but I don’t know.”
Cernosek, who has lived at Spanish Cove Retirement Village for the past 14 years, was proud to present the historic flag to the Yukon Veterans Museum.
“I am so glad the flag finally has some recognition and a new home,” she said.
Cernosek acknowledged she doesn’t know much about the flag’s history. But Yukon Veterans Museum founder/ curator Rick Cacini hopes to solve that mystery.
“We’re still looking into the history of this (flag),” Cacini said. “We believe it to be the personal flag of one of the six, four-star generals of World War I.
“We don’t know which one of those six. We’re going to contact the Smithsonian Museum in (Washington) D.C. We’re working on that.”
Cernosek did share some history about her late uncle during Monday’s flag presentation.
She read several fragile and water-stained letters and postcards that Blecha had written in 1917-18 while he was serving in the Army during WW I.
Cernosek’s mother had saved these writings that Blecha mailed to family members back home.
According to the earliest letter dated October 1917, Blecha was serving in the 23rd Aero Squadron stationed in Hempstead, Long Island, N.Y. He was not a pilot but was part of the ground grew that repaired and worked on planes.
Another letter dated April 1918 indicates Blecha was a corporal and chief of a hangar with six planes and nine mechanics under him. Their job was to keep the planes in good flying condition.
Cernosek shared a postcard her mother had saved from Blecha dated Nov. 9, 1918, just two days before the Armistice. In one last postcard dated Dec. 18, 1918, her uncle wrote he hoped “to come home in a month.”
Blecha did come home, and Cernosek assumed since he was a young unmarried man he must have stayed with her mother and father (Frank and Anna Cernosek) in Oklahoma City and stored the flag with them.
“He left at some time, and I remember hearing that he worked at the famous 101 Ranch for a time, dug for gold in Colorado and I suppose other adventures before he married in 1929,” Betty Cernosek said.
“Uncle Bill (later) worked for Manhattan Construction Company. He helped build the First National building; worked on the lobby, and then he built a home on MacArthur (between Reno and NW. 10th) that’s now a restaurant called Castle Falls.”
Bill Blecha and wife Opal lived with Betty’s parents for a while and later had their own home.
“I guess the flag was totally forgotten about and never passed back to him,” she said.
“Apparently, uncle Bill never asked for it and my mom and dad never remembered it either.
“So, there it stayed year after year. Both my parents died and I lived in their home for 13 years after their deaths until 1983 when I moved to a new home.”
While clearing out the attic of the old house, Betty Cernosek found the four-star flag and moved it to her new home along with many other items her parents had saved.
“I regret very much not paying more attention to the flag,” Cernosek said this week. “Uncle Bill was still living at the time and I could have taken it to him and found out about it, but I didn’t do that and I’m very sorry now.”
When Cernosek moved to Spanish Cove in 2005, she brought the flag with her and it had been in her walk-in closet until just recently. The Yukon woman is pleased to pass this unique flag on to a museum and hopes someday someone will discover what the four stars represent and perhaps more of its history.
The Yukon Veterans Museum curator said he’s glad to accept the gift and is working to learn more about the flag.
Cacini invited Spanish Cove residents to the Veterans Museum’s re-grand opening at 10 a.m. Saturday, April 13. The event, which will feature a ribbon cutting, will celebrate the museum’s latest additions including its new Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant restrooms.