Frank Luke, called the most spectacular air fighter of World War I, who shot town 18 airplanes and balloons in his short military career, enlisted in the Signal Corps Sept. 25, 1917. He took ground training at the University of Texas' School of Military Aeronautics and learned to fly at Rockwell Field, San Diego, Calif.
He received his wings and commission as a second lieutenant in the Signal Corps' Aviation Section in January 1918. He went overseas to Issoudun, France, where he took additional training at the 3rd Aviation Instruction Center for the combat role due to make him famous. Completing training on May 30, 1918, he went to Cazeaux, France, for duty at the front with the 1st Pursuit Group's 27th U.S. Aero Squadron in the Aisne-Marne line of defense.
On Aug. 16, 1918, Lieutenant Luke engaged in his first aerial combat, shooting down an enemy plane--he eventually got four airplanes and 14 balloons, the 18 being second to Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker's 26 confirmations.
Lieutenant Luke earned the reputation of being a "lone fighter," preferring to seek out and destroy the enemy on his own initiative. Thirteen of his victories were obtained in a single week in September, and on two days of that week he did not fly. He finally agreed to partnership, and for awhile teamed with Lt. Joseph Wehner.
During the St. Mihiel offensive in Sept. 1918, the pair destroyed three balloons at Reville, Mangiennes, and Romagne on Sept. 16, and two days later got two more near Labeuville. Somehow, on the latter mission, the pair became separated and Luke shot down three enemy planes.
Lieutenant Luke's big day, and final one, was Sept. 29, 1918. He had been grounded the previous day for being absent without permission and now he went to the air without proper authority. He destroyed three enemy observation balloons in the Meuse region. but was hit and wounded during the encounter. He was being chased by eight enemy Fokker planes that were protecting the balloons he shot down and he also was under heavy fire from ground batteries.
The Medal of Honor, which he earned for this final heroic action, tells the rest of the story best: "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 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."
During his short but colorful career, Frank Luke also earned two Distinguished Service Crosses for extraordinary heroism in air action in the face of heavy enemy fire. He was only 21 years old when he was killed. On Armistice Day 1930, a costly statue of Frank Luke, Jr. was unveiled on the capitol grounds in Phoenix. In June 1949, the Army Air Base near Phoenix was named Luke AFB in his honor.
See the full citation from the Congressional Medal of Honor Socitety page.
See the publication: The US Air Service in WWI, volume III, the Battle of St. Mihiel.