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Archives at The Museum of Flight

Joseph F. Wehner Collection

Identifier: 2000-10-16-431
The Joseph F. Wehner Collection is primarily comprised of photographs and documents related to the life and World War I service of Joseph Wehner. The collection includes correspondence to his sister Hazel, as well as correspondence about Wehner's death written to various members of his family. The photographs in the collection depict Wehner during his aviation training and during his time on the front in France.

In addition to these personal manuscript and photograph items, this collection also contains ephemera concerning Joseph Wehner and his friend and wingman Frank Luke. These items include newspaper and magazine clippings about Wehner and Luke, as well as materials written by the Champlin Fighter Museum in Mesa, Arizona (now closed). Taken together, the items in this collection give a limited but personal insight into the life of Joseph Wehner from approximately 1913 to 1918 and also documents the ways in which he was memorialized in the years after World War I.

The collection seems to have been assembled by someone other than Wehner himself; there are, for instance, photographs of his grave. The collection could have been assembled by any number of people, including his family members.


  • circa 1913-1979

Language of Materials

All materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research and is accessible in the Dahlberg Research Center by appointment. For more information contact us.

Conditions Governing Use

The Museum of Flight (TMOF) Archives is the owner of the physical materials in the archives and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from TMOF archives before any publication use. TMOF does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from copyright owners. Consult repository for more details.


0.2 Cubic Feet (1 half-width letter size document box and 2 oversize folders)


The collection contains photographs and documents related to the life and World War I service of German-American Joseph Fritz Wehner (1895-1918). Wehner achieved Ace status and received the Distinguished Service Cross for his service in the 27th Aero Squadron before being killed in action.

Biographical Note

1st Lieutenant Joseph Fritz Wehner was born September 20, 1895 in Boston, Massachusetts to Frank W. and Johanna (Nelson) Wehner. He attended Everett High School (Everett, Massachusetts) and was captain of the school's football team. This athletic prowess earned him a scholarship to attend Phillips Exeter Academy (Exeter, New Hampshire) starting in 1914. While at Exeter he was stroke on the crew team in addition to captaining the football squad.

Wehner travelled to Europe at some point after the onset of World War I. During his time there, he worked for the Y.M.C.A. at prison camps in Germany. He left Europe once diplomatic ties between Germany and the United States were severed. After returning to the United States, he enlisted in the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps in July of 1917 and was stationed at Kelly Field in Texas for his training.

While at Kelly Field Wehner was the focus of a Secret Service investigation, likely due to both his German heritage and the fact that he had worked in Germany earlier in World War I. The Secret Service dogged him throughout his training, and he was even arrested on an unsubstantiated claim that he had committed treason. Wehner was eventually cleared and allowed to travel to England. Multiple sources have speculated that these accusations and ill-treatment were largely to blame for Wehner's reticence, and may be the reason why the only fellow pilot he was friendly with was Frank Luke, another airman of German descent who was also investigated by the Secret Service.

Wehner received his 1st Lieutenant's commission on January 9, 1918 and sailed for England on February 1. Once there, he joined the 27th Aero Squadron under Major Harold Hartney. Wehner's first assignment in Europe was at the 3rd Aviation Instruction Center in Issoudon, France. By June 1918, he was fighting at the front, often as wingman for Frank Luke, with whom he flew many missions. In one memorable three day period in September 1918, Wehner was able to shoot down a Fokker D.VII and five balloons. For his heroism, he received the Distinguished Service Cross and a bronze Oak Leaf.

On September 18, 1918, Wehner was shot down in his SPAD XIII (7555) by German ace Georg von Hantelmann while protecting Luke during another attack. Wehner fell behind enemy lines near Serrouville, France. There are conflicting reports on the circumstances of his death. It is known that Wehner's body was eventually recovered and buried in an American cemetery in France. After the war his family elected to have him brought home, and he was reinterred in Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett, Massachusetts (Celosia Path, grave #5650). Wehner is memorialized in his hometown: the local VFW Post and a city park have both been named after him.

Further reading:

New England Aviators, 1914-1918. Volume 1. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1919.

Franks, Norman. Who Downed the Aces in WWI? London: Grub Street, 1996.

Pardoe, Blaine. Terror of the Autumn Skies. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2008.

Thayer, Lucian H. America's First Eagles. San Jose, California: R. James Bender Publishing, 1983.

Custodial History

Please note that this collection came to the Museum as part of the Museum's acquisition of the Champlin Fighter Museum. It is unknown as to how Champlin acquired these materials.


No further accruals are expected.

Existence and Location of Copies

Materials from this collection have been digitized and are available at The Museum of Flight Digital Collections.

Separated Materials

The following items have been separated from the archival component of this collection and are kept in Objects storage:
  • Distinguished Service Cross ribbon
  • Distinguished Service Cross button
  • Aero Club of America commemorative medal with presentation box, 1917
  • American Officers of the Great War (A.O.G.W.) commemorative pin
  • Washington Allston commemorative pin
  • Commemorative medal from the city of Everett (Massachusetts)
  • U.S. Army Air Service green dress hat
  • U.S. Army eagle emblem pin (meant for wearing on the hat)
  • U.S. Army Air Service leather holster
  • U.S. Army Air Service brown leather leggings
The following items are on display in the World War I Gallery of the Personal Courage Wing:
  • Flight suit, circa 1918
  • Flight helmet
  • Flight goggles
  • Croix de Guerre medal
  • Distinguished Service Cross medal with presentation box
  • Care and Operation of Aero Motors for Army and Navy Aviators and Mechanics by Jack Le Cain

  • Letter from 1st Lieutenant H. Whitcomb Nicholson to Mrs. Wehner, September 21, 1918 [page 1]
  • Footlocker
  • Wings won off another pilot by Frank Luke in a game of craps
Guide to the Joseph F. Wehner Collection
Completed - Level 4
L. Zaborowski and A. Demeter
Description rules
Language of description
Processing, cataloging and digitization of this collection was made possible by a Council on Libraries and Information Resources (CLIR) "Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives" grant.
Edition statement
2nd Edition

Revision Statements

  • 2016: Revised to reflect further processing in
  • November 2018: Finding aid migrated to ArchivesSpace.

Repository Details

Part of the The Museum of Flight Archives Repository

9404 East Marginal Way South
Seattle Washington 98108-4097

The Museum of Flight | 9404 E. Marginal Way South | Seattle WA 98108-4097 | 206-764-5874
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