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WWI Document Archive > Alphabetical Index of WWI Biographies > L-Index > Luke


File:Luke.GIFSPACER.GIFLuke, 2nd Lieutenant Frank. (1897-1918).

The Arizona Balloon Buster.

Frank Luke, Jr. was the second highest scoring USAS Ace of WWI, with 18 victories. He was born in Phoenix, Arizona, May 19, 1897 to Mr. and Mrs Frank Luke, Sr.

Frank Luke enlisted in the Signal Corps, U.S. Army, on September 25, 1917, as a private. He was then sent for flying training to Rockwell Field, San Diego, California, on January 23, 1918, and was subsequently commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Aviation Section, Signal Officers Reserve Corps.

Arriving overseas for advanced flying training, he was stationed at the 3rd Aviation Instruction Center, Issoudon, France, where he remained untl May 30, 1918, leaving for Caziaux. On July 26, 1918, he was ordered to active duty at the front with the 27th Aero Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group, in the Aisne-Marne salient.

Frank Luke stood out among the others, as a lone wolf flyer at a time when formation flying was becoming the order of the day. He continued to make savage solo attacks at the enemy, even against orders to the contrary. He made a specialty of attacking observation balloons, possibly the toughest target any pilot in WWI could face, as they were protected by scores of machine guns and AA artillery, not to mention the occasional fighter squadron.

Yet, Frank Luke managed to down no fewer than 13 of these formidable targets in just one week of September 1918, two days of which he did not fly. One on day alone, September 18, 1918, he shot down 2 balloons and 3 aircraft. Yet, he would be dead, killed in action just 10 days later.

On September 28, 1918, while attacking two German observation balloons, the law of averages caught up with the young ace. He was severely wounded, and forced to land near the town of Murvaux, but not before he made a strafing run against a column of German soldiers along the road, killing six, and wounding many more.

When his plane landed, not far from where he attacked the German infantry. He got out to find himself surrounded by the enemy. The Germans called for him to surrender, but that was the last thing on his mind. He pulled his pistol and started shooting, the German infantry returned fire, ending his brief career.

Only 21 at the time of his death, he was also the ranking US ace at that time, with 14 balloons, and 4 airplanes for a total of 18 kills. He was the first of only two US aces to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for deeds of bravery in WWI (Eddie Rickenbacker being the second).

Fighter Aces of the USA, by Raymond Toliver and Trevor Constable.

Go to the Luke Air Force Base Historical Note concerning Frank Luke.

The testimony of witnesses to Luke's death:
We the undersigned, living in Murvaux, Department of the Meuse, certify to have seen on 19 September 1918 toward evening an American aviator, followed by an escadrille of Germans in the direction of Liny, descend suddenly, vertically toward the earth, then straighten out close to the ground, and fly in the direction of Briers Farm, where he found a German captive balloon he burned. He flew toward Milly where he found another balloon which he also burned in spite of incessant fired directed toward his plane. He shot down a third balloon and two planes. He apparently was wounded by a shot from rapid- fire cannon. He came back over Murvaux and with his guns killed six German soldiers and wounded as many more. Following he landed and got out of his machine to quench his thirst at the stream. He had gone fifty yards when, seeing the Germans come toward him, he had the strength to draw his revolver to defend himself. A moment after, he fell dead from a serious wound he received in the chest. The undersigned placed the body of the aviator in a wagon and conducted it to the cemetery.

Voliner Nicholas
Cortine Delbart
Mayor Auguste Garre
Murvaux, 15 January 1919


WWI Document Archive > Alphabetical Index of WWI Biographies > L-Index > Luke