Commentary

March 11, 2014

World War I ace, hero, Luke AFB namesake

Air Force History Support office and 56th Fighter Wing History office

America’s second ranking ace in World War I, Frank Luke Jr. embodied the fighting spirit and public image of a fighter pilot of the time. He went after the toughest targets, heavily defended German Drachen observation balloons. They were protected by a ring of aircraft from planes attacking above the balloon, and balloon-mounted machine guns protected from attacks coming from beneath the balloon.

To attack a balloon was practically suicide. But Luke volunteered for these dangerous missions. Some surmised it was because of the easy confirmation as the fireball fell from the sky with a plume of smoke.

One of nine children of German immigrants, Luke was born in May 1897 in Phoenix. On Sept. 25, 1917, he enlisted in the Signal Corps’ Aviation Service and soon departed for flight training, first in Austin, Texas, then in San Diego.

Luke arrived in France March 19, 1918, and joined the 27th Aero Squadron at Saints on July 25 along with eight other replacement pilots. His exploits covered only a scant 17 days, but in this time, as records reflect, he destroyed 14 German balloons and four aircraft, earning him the title of the “Arizona Balloon Buster.”

Luke’s commander, Maj. H.E. Hartney, said of him, “No one had the sheer contemptuous courage that boy possessed. 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.”

On Sept. 12, 1918, Luke shot down his first balloon. His last flight was Sept. 29. At least 13 people in a village watched his final blaze of glory. Even though he had been grounded by his commander, he obtained permission to go after three balloons near the Meuse. He was severely wounded by a German Fokker aircraft patrolling the skies after he downed the first balloon. Rather than returning to base for medical treatment, he continued toward the other targets, destroying them. He crash landed in the village of Murvaux, where he drew his pistol instead of surrendering. He was killed in a gun battle with German soldiers.

For three months, nothing was known of Luke, except that he had disappeared. For several months, his grave was marked with a wooden cross that read, “Unknown American Aviator.” American military authorities received confirmation of his death after the war was over. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Italian War Cross and the Aero Club Medal for Bravery. Luke Air Force Base is named in his honor.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
Tech. Sgt. Timothy Boyer

Construction plan supports F-35 program

Tech. Sgt. Timothy Boyer An Australian F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter prepares to launch Aug. 25 at Luke Air Force Base. Luke is scheduled to have 144 F-35s by 2024 with 11 countries training pilots and maintainers here...
 
 
frana_g

The Psychology of Leadership

Lt. Col. Gregory Frana When given the opportunity to lead, how do great leaders ensure people want to follow them? In the military it is sometimes the case that followers simply have to follow, but what makes people “want” ...
 
 

Refuse to fear change

Are you afraid of change? Most people are. Every day we experience change in our lives, and we certainly can’t hide from it. We learn and grow from changes; that’s what makes the world go around. With all of the Air Force and day-to-day life changes, learning to deal with change must be one of...
 

 
3_150818-F-LC301-007

Munition flight’s isolation strengthens unit

Senior Airman Christopher Bolling, 56th Equipment Maintenance Squadron Munitions Flight precision guided missiles bay chief, and Eddie Hutton, 56th EMS Munitions Flight crew member, work on an air-to-air missile. The munitions ...
 
 

IN BRIEF

Stand up for vets The 3rd Annual Stand Up For Veterans event is 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 26 at the Glendale Community College Student Union. There will be employment opportunities, social services, legal services, free hair cuts for veterans, free lunch for vets and their families, and more. Vets can apply for healthcare and...
 
 
4_150810-F-LC301-003

Reservist lends hand

Master Sgt. Steven Joubert, 944th Detachment 1, is the first Air Reserve aircrew chief to hold a position within the 309th Aircraft Maintenance Unit since 2007 when the 944th Fighter Wing underwent changes in the base realignme...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>