Second Lieutenant Frank Luke Jr MoH.
Second Lieutenant Frank Luke Jr enlisted in the Signal Corps on 25 September 1917. He took ground training at the University of Texas' School of Military Aeronautics and learned to fly at Rockwell Field, San Diego, California. He received his wings and commission as a second lieutenant in the Signal Corps' Aviation Section in January 1918.
Second Lieutenant Frank Luke Jr went overseas to Issoudun, France, where he took additional training at the 3rd Aviation Instruction Centre to prepare him for the combat role that would make him famous. He completed training on 30 May 1918 and was sent to Cazeaux, France, for duty with the US 1st Pursuit Group's 27th Aero Squadron in the Aisne-Marne line of defence.
On 16 August 1918 Second Lieutenant Luke engaged in his first aerial combat and shot down a German aircraft. He quickly earned a reputation for being a "lone wolf," preferring to seek out and destroy the enemy on his own initiative. Thirteen of his eighteen victories were obtained in a single week in September, and on two days of that week he did not fly. He finally agreed to a partnership and teamed with wingman Lieutenant Joseph Wehner. During the Saint Mihiel Offensive in September 1918 the pair destroyed three balloons on 16 September at Reville, Mangiennes, and Romagne. Two days later they bagged two more near Labeuville, but the pair became separated and Frank Luke Jr went on to shot down three enemy planes on his own.
On 26 September 1918, after being grounded the previous day as a result of being absent without permission, Second Lieutenant Luke took off in his SPAD S.XIII without proper authorisation. He went on to destroyed three more enemy observation balloons, but was hit and wounded during the encounter. He was then chased by the eight German Fokker aircraft that were protecting the balloons and was heavily engaged by fire from ground batteries. Severely wounded, Lieutenant Luke 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 he was quickly surrounded be the enemy, who called upon him to surrender. This he refused to do and drew his automatic pistol, Second Lieutenant Frank Luke Jr defended himself against the enemy until he was hit in the chest and killed. He was buried nearby by French villagers.
In his short flying career, Second Lieutenant Frank Luke Jr recorded eighteen confirmed kills, four airplanes and fourteen balloons, second only to Captain Eddie Rickenbacker's twenty-six kills.
Second Lieutenant Frank Luke Jr standing next to his aircraft.
For his actions on 26 September 1918 Second Lieutenant Frank Luke Jr was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, his citation reads:1
"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."
Second Lieutenant Frank Luke Jr is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial, Plot A, Row 26, Grave 13 and Luke Air Force Base, near Phoenix, Arizona is named in his honour.