Frank Luke, Jr.
Engagements: • World War I (1914 - 1918)
Frank Luke, Jr.
Second Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr. was a U.S. Army Air Service officer and fighter ace who was posthumously awarded the U.S. military's highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, for his heroic actions during World War I. Luke was also twice posthumously awarded the U.S. military's second highest award for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross, for his heroic actions during World War I.
Luke ranked second to Captain Eddie Rickenbacker among U.S. Army Air Service pilots in number of aerial victories during World War I (Rickenbacker was credited with 26 aerial victories, while Luke's official score was 18). Frank Luke was the first airman to receive the Medal of Honor. Luke Air Force Base, AZ, a U.S. Air Force pilot training installation since World War II, is named in his honor.
Frank Luke, Jr. was born on 19 May 1897 in Phoenix, AZ, after his family immigrated from Germany to America and settled in Arizona in 1873. Frank was his family's fifth child, and he grew up excelling in sports, working in copper mines, and participating in bare-knuckle boxing matches. Following the U.S. entry into World War I, he enlisted in the Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps on 25 September 1917 and received pilot training in Texas and California. After being commissioned a Second Lieutenant in March 1918, he went to France for further training, and in July was assigned to the 27th Aero Squadron. Although Luke was still a Second Lieutenant at the time of his death, Stephen Skinner's book "The Stand" notes that he received a posthumous promotion to First Lieutenant.
Because of his arrogance and his occasional tendencies to fly alone and to disobey orders, Luke was disliked by some of his peers and superiors. But the 27th was under standing orders to destroy German observation balloons. Because of this, Luke, along with his close friend Lt. Joseph Frank Wehner [Honoree Record ID 309226], continually volunteered to attack these important targets despite the fact that they were heavily defended by anti-aircraft guns on the ground. The two pilots began a remarkable string of victories together, with Luke attacking the balloons and Wehner flying protective cover. Wehner was killed in action on 18 September 1918, in a dogfight with Fokker D.VIIs which were attacking Luke. Luke then shot down two of these D.VIIs and two balloons, thereby achieving his 13th official kill - a Halberstadt C type observation plane of 'Flieger Abteilung' 36.
Between 12 and 29 September, Luke was credited with shooting down 14 German balloons and four airplanes. These 18 victories, which Luke earned during just ten sorties in eight days, was a feat unsurpassed by any pilot in World War I.
Luke's final flight took place during the first phase of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. On 28 September, after achieving his 14th and 15th victories, he landed his SPAD XIII at the French aerodrome at Cicognes where he spent the night, claiming engine trouble. When he returned to the 1st Pursuit Group's base at Rembercourt the next day, he was confronted by his squadron's commanding officer (C.O.). Despite being under threat of arrest by the C.O. for being AWOL, Luke took off without authorization and flew to Verdun, where his sympathetic Group Commander canceled the arrest order and gave Luke tacit approval to continue his balloon hunting. That evening Luke flew to the front to attack three balloons in the vicinity of Dun-sur-Meuse, six miles behind the German lines. He first dropped a message to a nearby U.S. balloon company, alerting them to observe his imminent attacks. Luke shot down the enemy balloons, but was then severely wounded by a single machinegun bullet fired from a hilltop above him, a mile east of the last balloon site he had attacked. Luke landed in a field just west of the small village of Murvaux - after strafing a group of German soldiers on the ground - near the Ruisseau de Bradon, a stream leading to the Meuse River. He ran toward the stream, intending to reach the cover of its adjacent underbrush, but collapsed some 200 meters from his airplane due to the effects of his wound. Approached by German infantry, Luke drew his Colt Model 1911 pistol and fired a few rounds at his attackers before dying. Reports that a day later his body was found with an empty gun, a bullet hole in his chest, and seven dead Germans in front of him, were proven erroneous. According to author Skinner, the fatal bullet, fired from the hilltop machine gun position, had entered near Luke's right shoulder, passed through his body, and exited from his left side.
On 30 September the Germans buried Luke in the Murvaux Cemetery, from where his body was retrieved two months later by American forces. His final resting place is the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial, located east of the village of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon.
After the U.S. Army obtained testimony from French and American sources, Luke was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor.
Medal of Honor
Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 27th Aero Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group, Air Service.
Place and date: Near Murvaux, France, 29 September 1918.
Citation: After having previously destroyed a number of enemy aircraft within 17 days he voluntarily started on a patrol after German observation balloons. Though pursued by 8 German planes which were protecting the enemy balloon line, he unhesitatingly attacked and shot down in flames 3 German balloons, being himself under heavy fire from ground batteries and the hostile planes. Severely wounded, he descended to within 50 meters of the ground, and flying at this low altitude near the town of Murvaux opened fire upon enemy troops, killing 6 and wounding as many more. Forced to make a landing and surrounded on all sides by the enemy, who called upon him to surrender, he drew his automatic pistol and defended himself gallantly until he fell dead from a wound in the chest.
The presentation was made to Frank Luke, Sr., in Phoenix in May 1919. The family later donated the Medal to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton, OH. The Museum's small exhibit honoring Lt Frank Luke also contains his flying goggles, the gunsight from his last aircraft, documents written by Luke, and other personal items. The Museum's Early Years Gallery displays a fully restored SPAD XIII of the type flown by Luke.
Rickenbacker said of Luke: "He was the most daring aviator and greatest fighter pilot of the entire war. His life is one of the brightest glories of our Air Service. He went on a rampage and shot down fourteen enemy aircraft, including ten balloons, in eight days. No other ace, even the dreaded Richthofen, had ever come close to that."
First Distinguished Service Cross
Citation: The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) to Second Lieutenant (Air Service) Frank Luke, Jr., United States Army Air Service, for extraordinary heroism in action while serving with 27th Aero Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group, U.S. Army Air Service, A.E.F., near St. Mihiel, France, September 12 to 15, 1918. Lieutenant Luke, by skill, determination, and bravery, and in the face of heavy enemy fire, successfully destroyed eight enemy observation balloons in four days.
Second Distinguished Service Cross
Citation: The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pride in presenting a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a Second Award of the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) to Second Lieutenant (Air Service) Frank Luke, Jr., United States Army Air Service, for extraordinary heroism in action while serving with 27th Aero Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group, U.S. Army Air Service, A.E.F., near Etain, France, 18 September 1918. Immediately after destroying two enemy observation balloons, Lieutenant Luke was attacked by a large formation of German planes, Fokker type. He turned to attack two, which were directly behind him, and shot them down. Sighting an enemy biplane, although his gasoline was nearly gone, he attacked and destroyed this machine also.
Medals and Awards
Medal of Honor
Luke Air Force Base, located west of Phoenix, AZ, is named in his honor.
Luke's Statue is on the grounds of the State Capitol in Phoenix, AZ.
Memorial to Frank Luke and other members of the Phoenix Union High School Class of 1918, in front of the old Phoenix Union High School Building, Phoenix, AZ.
From 1919 to 1932, Luke Field, Territory of Hawaii, was named for him.
Lukeville, AZ, on the U.S. border is named after Frank Luke.
Frank Luke was named the Class Exemplar of the U.S. Air Force Academy's class of 2010.
In the 2006 movie Flyboys, James Franco's leading character Blaine Rawlings is inspired by Frank Luke.
Death and Burial
Second Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr. was killed in action on 29 September 1918. He is buried at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial in Romagne, France, in Plot A, Row 26, Grave 13.
|Honoree ID: 77||Created by: MHOH|