b. 19/05/1897 Phoenix, Arizona. d. 29/09/1918 near Murvaux, France.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 29/09/1918 near Murvaux, France.
Luke was born May 19, 1897, in Phoenix, Arizona, after his father emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1874 and settled there. Frank was his family’s fifth child, and had eight brothers and sisters. He grew up excelling in sports, working in copper mines, and participating in bare-knuckle boxing matches. Following the United States’ entry into World War I in April 1917, Frank enlisted in the Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps on September 25, 1917, and received pilot training in Texas and California. After being commissioned a second lieutenant in March 1918, he deployed to France for further training, and in July was assigned to the 27th Aero Squadron.
Luke, along with his close friend Lieutenant Joseph Frank Wehner, continually volunteered to attack these important targets although they were heavily defended by anti-aircraft guns on the ground. The two pilots began a string of victories together, with Luke attacking the balloons and Wehner flying protective cover. Wehner was killed in action on September 18, 1918, by Georg von Hantelmann in a dogfight with Fokker D.VIIs, which were attacking Luke. Luke then shot down two of these D.VIIs, two balloons, and a Halberstadt; the last “credit” enabled Luke to achieve his 13th official kill—a Halberstadt Ctype observation plane of Flieger Abteilung 36.
Between September 12 and 29, Luke was credited with shooting down 14 German balloons and four airplanes: Luke achieved these 18 victories during just 10 sorties in eight days, a feat unsurpassed by any pilot in World War I.
Luke’s final flight took place during the first phase of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. On September 28, 1918, after achieving his 14th and 15th victories, he landed his SPAD XIII at the French aerodrome at Cicognes where he spent the night, claiming engine trouble. When he returned to the 1st Pursuit Group’s base at Rembercourt the next day, he was confronted by Captain Alfred A. Grant, his squadron’s commanding officer. Despite being under threat of arrest by Grant for absence without leave, Luke took off without authorization and flew to a forward airbase at Verdun, where his sympathetic group commander, Major Hartney, canceled the arrest order and gave Luke tacit approval to continue his balloon hunting.
That evening Luke flew to the front to attack three balloons in the vicinity of Dun-sur-Meuse, six miles behind the German lines. He first dropped a message to a nearby United States balloon company, alerting them to observe his imminent attacks. Luke shot down the enemy balloons, but was then severely wounded by a single machine gun bullet fired from a hilltop above him, a mile east of the last balloon site he had attacked. Luke landed in a field just west of the small village of Murvaux—after strafing a group of German soldiers on the ground—near the Ruisseau de Bradon, a stream leading to the Meuse River. Although weakened by his wound, he made his way toward the stream, intending to reach the cover of its adjacent underbrush, but finally collapsed some 200 meters from his airplane. Approached by German infantry, Luke drew his Colt Model 1911 pistol and fired a few rounds at his attackers before dying. Reports that a day later his body was found with an empty gun and a bullet hole in his chest, with seven dead Germans in front of him were proven erroneous. According to author Skinner, the fatal bullet, fired from the hilltop machine gun position, had entered near Luke’s right shoulder, passed through his body, and exited from his left side.
On September 30, 1918, the Germans buried Luke in the Murvaux cemetery, from where his body was retrieved two months later by American forces. His final resting place is the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial, located east of the village of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon.
After the United States Army obtained sworn testimony from French and American sources, Luke was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor. The presentation was made to Frank Luke Sr., in Phoenix in May 1919. The family later donated the medal to the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio.
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 eight German planes which were protecting the enemy balloon line, he unhesitatingly attacked and shot down in flames three 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 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.
BURIAL LOCATION: MEUSE-ARGONNE AMERICAN CEMETERY, ROMAGNE-SOUS-MONTFAUCON, FRANCE.
PLOT A, ROW 26, GRAVE 13.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE U.S. AIR FORCE, WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, DAYTON, OHIO.