The son of Frank and Johanna Nelson Wehner of Everett, Massachusetts, Joseph Frank Wehner's athletic achievements as captain of the Everett High School football team earned him a scholarship to the Phillips Exeter Academy in 1914. Graduating in 1916, he left for Europe as an employee of the Y.M.C.A., living in Berlin and working in prison camps until the United States severed diplomatic relations with Germany in April 1917. Returning home, he enlisted in the Signal Corps at New York during June 1917. While receiving flight training, Wehner's German ancestry led to an investigation followed by an unsubstantiated arrest for suspicion of treason by the Secret Service. Eventually, he was permitted to rejoin his unit and departed for England in February 1918. Assigned to the 3rd Aviation Instruction Centre at Issoudun, France, Wehner, now bitter and withdrawn over the question of his loyalty, became friends with another loner: Frank Luke. Both pilots were assigned to the 27th Aero Squadron under Harold Hartney on 25 July 1918. With six confirmed victories during September 1918, Wehner shot down one Fokker D.VII and five balloons in just three days of aerial combat. He was killed in action shortly after he and Luke downed two German balloons. Protecting Luke as he attacked a third balloon, Wehner's SPAD XIII was shot down by Georg von Hantlemann of Jasta 15.
The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to Joseph Frank Wehner, First Lieutenant (Air Service), U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in action near Rouvres, France, September 15, 1918. While on a mission First Lieutenant Wehner found an enemy patrol of eight machines attacking a single American observation machine. He immediately attacked, destroying one and forcing another down out of control, his own plane being badly damaged by enemy machine-gun fire. He managed to convey the American plane to safety.
General Orders No. 138, W.D., 1918
Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) Oak Leaf Cluster
The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to Joseph Frank Wehner, First Lieutenant (Air Service), U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in action near Mangiennes and Reville, France, September 16, 1918. Amid terrific antiaircraft and ground machine-gun fire First Lieutenant Wehner descended, attacked, and destroyed two enemy balloons. One of these balloons was destroyed in flames after it had been hauled to the ground and was resting in its bed.