2nd Lt. Frank Luke: Heritage and readiness


On day one, as we lace our boots for the first time, our core values begin to be cemented within us. Every action we take and every decision we make molds the foundation for the path ahead. Our warrior ethos and our Airman’s creed pay homage to those who came before us, those who paved the way and those that made the ultimate sacrifice.

One of those remarkable fallen is 2nd Lt. Frank Luke, a 21-year-old pilot born May 19, 1897, here in Phoenix.

Throughout his childhood and early adulthood he displayed key readiness traits. Reluctant to accept failure, he consistently trained his body and mind, excelling in sports and occupational endeavors. He was driven to obtain knowledge, motivated to accomplish tasks and determined to learn new skills. Consistently placing one foot forward, he faced challenges, invited hardships and strived to succeed.

On Sept. 25, 1917, his tenacity and bravery propelled him into the U.S. Signal Corps Aviation Section.

It’s rumored Luke completed aeronautics school two weeks faster than his peers. He excelled at pilot training, earned his wings and was selected to attend advanced aviation training in France.

He was assigned to the 27th Aero Squadron. Within six months of commissioning he was moved toward the frontline. His skillset and ability garnered him a seat in one of the most advanced fighters of World War I — the French-built Spad XIII.

Without pause, Luke began his combat missions and was credited with his first aerial victory by destroying a German observation balloon Sept. 12, 1918. These balloons, called Drachen (Dragon) were heavily armed with infantry, machine guns, anti-aircraft cannons and phosphorus rounds. This made them more difficult to take down than a fighter plane, often requiring multiple attack passes to destroy.

For two weeks, he consistently overcame odds and proved his courage. Despite adversity and a bullet-riddled aircraft, he continued to fly until forced to land due to damages. But that didn’t stop him. He was internally fueled and immediately jumped into another aircraft and pushed forward.

He had a hand in destroying five aircraft in 10 minutes Sept. 18.

He answered our nation’s call, putting everything on the line for our freedom. Less than three weeks after his first combat flight, Luke’s plane was damaged from machine gun fire on Sept. 29. Without regard for his own personal safety, he landed his plane, removed his sidearm and continued to fight on foot until he was hit by a single round.

Luke was credited with downing four aircraft and 10 balloons by himself and assisted in downing another four balloons. He received the Distinguished Service Cross, the Italian War Cross and was declared the most daring pilot of the war. His readiness, posture and ability culminated in becoming the first Airman awarded the Medal of Honor. His selfless actions were paramount in the victory of World War I.

Luke Air Force Base was named as tribute to his war record.

Luke’s actions and legacy remind us that readiness is the ability to be prepared for combat operations. The training we receive and skills we develop are necessary to succeed. Regardless of career field, we’re all part of a well-greased machine, each component essential for maximum operational capabilities. Luke embraced his skillsets and strived to be the absolute best at everything he did. He consistently adapted, overcame and excelled along his journey. His actions helped pave the road for our heritage and way of life.

Readiness is not only about skillsets and ability. It encompasses our spirituality, mental capacity, internal strengths and physical capabilities. Use the tools you’re given, refine them and train others to be the best they can be. You never know when you may be called upon. Every action we take, every decision we make, molds the foundation for the path ahead. Embrace your warrior ethos, our Airman’s creed and honor those who came before you.