Frank Luke Jr., nicknamed "The Arizona Balloon Buster," was born in Phoenix, Ariz. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in September 1917, learned to fly and arrived on the front in France in July 1918. Assigned to the 27th Aero Squadron, his exceptional bravery initially earned him a reputation for being "wild and reckless." His fellow pilots soon realized, though, that Luke had a quality that set him apart as a great fighter pilot -- he was completely fearless.
In September 1918, Luke began a personal campaign against German observation balloons and airplanes. In a single week, he scored 13 confirmed victories, including three aircraft and two balloons in one day.
At sunset on Sept. 29, 1918, Lt. Luke took off from a forward aerodrome at Verdun to attack balloons in the Dun-sur-Meuse area. Though pursued by eight aircraft and facing heavy ground fire, he destroyed three balloons and killed six enemy soldiers in strafing attacks near the German-held village of Murvaux. Residents said Luke was wounded in the chest by ground fire while circling low over the village and had landed his SPAD. They reported that Luke crawled from the aircraft and died firing his pistol at German soldiers searching for him.
Luke was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his last mission. At the time of his death, he was the leading U.S. ace, having downed 14 balloons and four aircraft for a total of 18 confirmed victories.
After the war, Luke's remains were moved from Murvaux's cemetery to the U.S. Military Cemetery at Romagne, France, for permanent burial.
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