Frank Luke : Last Man Standing

Brash and arrogant, at least that’s how some historians describe Frank Luke. The American aviator of US Army Air Service was officially credited with 18 kills and also he was the first airman to win the distinguished Medal of Honor. He was an ace of the aces, a passionate bold fighter pilot of the Great War.

Frank Luke in front of his bird.

Frank was born on 19th May 1897 to a giant family. He was a bare-knuckle boxer, excelled in sports and other activities. The man loves to push himself to the limit, so it’s no wonder why he chose USAAS to serve. He respected his old man a lot, Luke had a tough life. The wild west had her influence over the Arizonian native. Luke was a strong, free spirit individual.

Frank Luke earned his wing in 1917 at Rockwell Field, California. He was only twenty years old at that time. Within months of deployment, Luke turned into the terror of the autumn skies. He was famously known as the “Arizona Balloon Buster.” The man was so good at shooting down enemy observer balloons that he became an icon of his unit. They also gave him the nickname, “The Arizona Dragonslayer.” Seems like Frank Luke’s free spirit had a lot to do with his air rampage.

Frank Luke also knocked out 4 enemy aircraft. He was a tough call.

Coming from a German immigrant family, it wasn’t easy for the Lukes’ when the US had to face Germany during the war. German empire was encouraging Mexico to enter the war by invading the US. Luke’s family home is near the Mexican border, the state of Arizona. It wasn’t easy because the anti-German sentiment was growing nationwide and Luke had to prove his worth.

Second lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr.

Captain Eddie Rickenbacker told 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: Britain’s Bishop from Canada, France’s Fonck or even the dreaded Richthofen had ever come close to that.”

“I have got a Fokker!” Luke was telling other aviators when he shot down the German bird.

But Luke wasn’t lucky enough to survive the war.

On September 27, 1918, Luke teamed up with Lieutenants Ivan Roberts and Alden Sherry to strafe balloons. Instead, they ran into five Fokkers. In the bitter dogfight that ensued, Luke got an unconfirmed victory, but Roberts was never seen again and Sherry was shot down near the American lines. That night, after Luke got another unconfirmed balloon victory, he deliberately spent the night at the Toul airdrome, where the French treated him like a king. But his commanding officer considered him “absent without leave.”

Luke was grounded on the next day. Luke wasn’t happy with the decision. He took off without permission, soon flew to hunt German balloons again. He spent that night with the French aviators.

On September 29, 1918 Luke rushed towards three spotted balloons near Dun-Sur-Meuse. He vowed to flame them down. He fired up the first one but the next two were somehow saved thanks to the intervention of a German Fokker. It was all of a sudden. His Spade got into a dogfight with the Fokker, Luke tried to put a blow on the enemy troops on land and the Fokker. But he was shot down. Luke was surrounded from all sides by the enemy troops. At this point, nobody was sure if he was either killed while trying to resist the ground troops or was killed as a PoW by his captivators.

All of this was unknown to the American forces until 1919 when his unmarked grave was discovered by the allied forces. He was buried by the French villagers.

Frank Luke’s Grave

And that’s how one of the most famous American pilot of WW1 met his fate. RIP young man!

Syed Sabbir Ahmed
Syed has always been a defense enthusiast and loves to read books. His love of military specially circulates among naval equipment.

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