Medal of Honor: 2nd Lt. Frank Luke Jr. US Army Air Service
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Though a college education was required even among the earliest US Army aviators, no one knows when, where or even if Frank Luke attended college. He graduated from Phoenix's Union High School somewhere around 1915-16, where yearbooks described him as 'Too happy-go-lucky to know his own talents.' What he did in the two years following is not generally known. If he did not attend college, he must have pulled some fancy strings to get into pilot training.
Frank, Jr. was born and raised in Arizona Territory. Frank Luke, Sr. was a respected man in the community, a shopkeeper before turning to politics where he served as the Phoenix City assessor, Maricopa County Supervisor, and finally as a member of the Arizona State Tax Commission. In 1917 the family patriarch moved his family (there were nine children with Frank, Jr. squarely in the middle), into a new home at 2200 Monroe Street, one of the city's finest homes in one of its best neighborhoods.
In September 1917 Frank, Jr. trained at the School of Military Aeronautics at Austin, Texas where he managed to get orders for flight school. On a two-week leave that fall he returned to Phoenix to visit the new family home on Monroe Street. During that brief period he was rushing off to watch a football game one night when his mother called for him. Tillie Luke was busily turning the new house into a home, and wanted her son to plant some lily bulbs before he left. Hurriedly Frank dug up a few holes, randomly placing the bulbs, covered them neatly, and rushed off to catch his game. It was a simple act, one of those common occurrences in life that, in Frank's case, would ultimately add a touching appendix to his legendary life.
On January 23, 1918, he got his wings and a commission as a second lieutenant at Rockwell Field in San Diego. After another leave, he was off to catch his ship in New York and find his war.
The 'Arizona Balloon-Buster' was the leading ace in the United States Air Service at the time of his death. After aerial combat training at Issoudun, France, Frank Luke, Jr. was assigned to the 27th Aero Squadron under Harold Hartney on 25 July 1918. Often flying alone or with his sidekick Joseph Wehner, he shot down 18 enemy balloons and planes in just 18 days. After flaming three German balloons on 29 September 1918, Luke's SPAD XIII (S7984) was shot down by ground fire. Resisting capture, he shot it out with approaching German soldiers and was killed near the crash site. After the war, Luke's remains were reburied at the Romagne Military Cemetery. Luke Field in Hawaii and Luke Air Force Base near Glendale, Arizona were named in his honor.
'Man, how that kid could fly! No one, mind you, no one, had the sheer contemptuous courage that boy possessed. I know he's been criticized for being such a lone-hander, but, good Lord, he won us priceless victories by those very tactics. He was an excellent pilot and probably the best flying marksman on the Western Front. We had any number of expert pilots and there was no shortage of good shots, but the perfect combination, like the perfect specimen of anything in the world, was scarce. Frank Luke was the perfect combination.' Harold Hartney, Commanding Officer, 1st Pursuit Group
'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 - Britain's Bishop from Canada, France's Fonck or even the dreaded Richthofen had ever come close to that.' Edward Rickenbacker
|1||12 Sep 1918||0809||27th|| ||Balloon||Marieulles|
|2||14 Sep 1918||27th|| ||Balloon||Buzy|
|3||14 Sep 1918||1000||27th|| ||Balloon 1||Boinville|
|4||15 Sep 1918||27th|| ||Balloon||Boinville|
|5||15 Sep 1918||27th|| ||Balloon||Boinville|
|6||15 Sep 1918||1950||27th|| ||Balloon||Chaumont|
|7||16 Sep 1918||27th|| ||Balloon||Reville|
|8||16 Sep 1918||1940||27th|| ||Balloon 2||Romagne|
|9||18 Sep 1918||1640||27th|| ||Balloon 2||Mars la Tour|
|10||18 Sep 1918||1640||27th|| ||Balloon 2||Mars la Tour|
|11||18 Sep 1918||1645||27th|| ||Fokker D.VII||St. Hilaire|
|12||18 Sep 1918||1645||27th|| ||Fokker D.VII||St. Hilaire|
|13||18 Sep 1918||1645||27th|| ||Halberstadt C||Jonville|
|14||28 Sep 1918||0600||27th|| ||Balloon||Betheniville|
|15||28 Sep 1918||1550||27th|| ||Hannover CL||Monthainville|
|16||29 Sep 1918||1705||27th|| ||Balloon||Avocourt|
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Medal of Honor citation:
Second Lieutenant Frank Luke Jr., 27th Aero Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group. Murvaux, France, September 29, 1918. Born: May 19, 1897, Phoenix, Ariz. G. O. No.: 59, W.D., 1919.
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy near Murvaux, France, September 29, 1918. 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 eight German planes which were protecting the enemy balloon line, he unhesitatingly attacked and shot down in flames three 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 six 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.”
First Distinguished Service Cross
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
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.
Here is what the famous US ace Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker had to say about Frank 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.”
Short History of US Army Air Service
The Air Service, United States Army (also seen as the Air Service, "U.S. Air Service" and after its legislative establishment in 1920, the "U.S. Army Air Service") was the military aviation service of the United States between 1918 and 1926 and a forerunner of the United States Air Force. It was established as an independent but temporary branch of the U.S. War Department during World War I by two executive orders of 28th President Woodrow Wilson: on May 24, 1918, replacing the Aviation Section, Signal Corps as the nation's air force; and March 19, 1919, establishing a military Director of Air Service to control all aviation activities. Its life was extended for another year in July 1919, during which time Congress passed the legislation necessary to make it a permanent establishment. The National Defense Act of 1920 assigned the Air Service the status of "combatant arm of the line" of the United States Army with a major general in command.
In France, the Air Service of the American Expeditionary Force, a separate entity under commanding General John J. Pershing that conducted the combat operations of U.S. military aviation, began field service in the spring of 1918. By the end of the war, the Air Service used 45 squadrons to cover 137 kilometers (85 miles) of front from Pont-à-Mousson to Sedan. 71 pursuit pilots were credited with shooting down five or more German aircraft while in American service. Overall the Air Service destroyed 756 enemy aircraft and 76 balloons in combat. 17 balloon companies also operated at the front, making 1,642 combat ascensions. 289 airplanes and 48 balloons were lost in battle.