Frank Luke Jr. (May 19, 1897 in Phoenix, Arizona – September 29, 1918 near Murvaux, France) was an American fighter ace, ranking second among U.S. Air Service pilots to Eddie Rickenbacker in number of aerial victories during World War I. Frank Luke is a recipient of the Medal of Honor.
Read more about Frank Luke and other "aces" from acepilots.com.
ke Luke's family emigrated from Germany to America, and in 1873 Frank Luke Sr. settled in Arizona. His fifth child, Frank Jr., grew up an active, hardy youngster who excelled at sports, worked the copper mines, and entered bare-knuckle boxing matches. Following America's entry into World War I, he enlisted in the United States Army on September 25, 1917 and received flight training in Texas and California. Commissioned a Second Lieutenant, in March he went to France for further training and in July was assigned to the 27th Aero Squadron.
Luke was simultaneously admired and disliked for his aggressive tendency to fly alone. But the 27th was under standing orders to destroy German observation balloons, and Luke partnered with Lieutenant Joseph Wehner. They began a remarkable string of victories but Wehner was killed in action on September 18, 1918. That same day Luke shot down his 13th "official" kill - a Halberstadt C type observation plane of FA 36.
Between September 12 and September 29, Luke was credited with shooting down 14 German balloons and four airplanes.
Luke met his fate in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Under threat of arrest for going AWOL, Luke took off in a SPAD XIII fighter without authorization and flew to the front. He shot down three observation balloons but was wounded by antiaircraft fire. He landed in German-held territory along the Somme River. Surrounded, Luke pulled out his Colt 1911 or a revolver and opened fire before he was killed. He was found a day later with an empty gun and a bullet hole in his chest with 7 dead Germans in front of him. He was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor in 1921.
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."
Medal of Honor citation
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. Entered Service At: Phoenix, Ariz. Born: 19 May 1897, Phoenix, Ariz. G. O. No.: 59, W.D., 1919.
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.