Posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the "Arizona Balloon-Buster" was the leading ace in the United States Air Service at the time of his death. After aerial combat training at Issoudun, France, Frank Luke, Jr. was assigned to the 27th Aero Squadron under Harold Hartney on 25 July 1918. Often flying alone or with his sidekick Joseph Wehner, he shot down 18 enemy balloons and planes in just 18 days. After flaming three German balloons on 29 September 1918, Luke's SPAD XIII (S7984) was shot down by ground fire. Resisting capture, he shot it out with approaching German soldiers and was killed near the crash site. After the war, Luke's remains were reburied at the Romagne Military Cemetery. Luke Field in Hawaii and Luke Air Force Base near Glendale, Arizona were named in his honor.
"Man, how that kid could fly! No one, mind you, no one, had the sheer contemptuous courage that boy possessed. I know he's been criticized for being such a lone-hander, but, good Lord, he won us priceless victories by those very tactics. 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." Harold Hartney, Commanding Officer, 1st Pursuit Group
"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." Edward Rickenbacker
The Tucson Citizen, Tucson, Arizona, Saturday, 16 November 1918, page 4
Combat Report, 12 September 1918
Documents and Articles
Graves Registration Letter - "From the inspection of the grave and interview held with the inhabitants of this town, the following information was learned in regard to this aviator and his heroism. He is reported as having..." more
American Red Cross Letter - "This officer was killed at Murvaux (5 kilometers east of Dun-sur-Meuse) on Sunday, September 29, 1918. The Germans stripped him of all identification, but Captain McCormick..." more
Murvaux Affidavit - "The undersigned, living in Murvaux, Department of the Meuse, certify to have seen on the 29th of September, 1918, toward evening an American aviator followed by an escadrille of Germans..." more
Frey's Murvaux Affidavit, 1962 - "At approximately 2.pm on Sunday, 29 September 1918, an Allied pursuit plane made a strafing attack on a group of German soldiers in the area of La Maisonette, a large building on a hillside..." more
Monument to Frank Luke Restored by Stephen Skinner
"On the average tourist map, the tiny village of Murvaux is non-existent. But if you buy a large, detailed Michelin map of France and a good magnifying glass, you'll find it represented by a tiny speck about 5 kilometers..." more
Distinguished Service Cross (DSC)
The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to Frank Luke, Jr., Second Lieutenant (Air Service), U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in action near St. Mihiel, France, September 12 to 15, 1918. Lieutenant Luke, by skill, determination, and bravery, and in the face of heavy enemy fire, successfully destroyed eight enemy observation balloons in four days.
General Orders No. 34, W.D., 1919
Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) - Oak Leaf Cluster
The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to Frank Luke, Jr., Second Lieutenant (Air Service), U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in action near Etain, France, September 18, 1918. Immediately after destroying two enemy observation balloons, Lieutenant Luke was attacked by a large formation of German planes, Fokker type. He turned to attack two, which were directly behind him, and shot them down. Sighting an enemy biplane, although his gasoline was nearly gone, he attacked and destroyed this machine also.
General Orders No. 34, W.D., 1919
Medal of Honor
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy near Murvaux, France, September 29, 1918. 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.