Skip to comments.The FReeper Foxhole Profiles Lt Frank Luke Jr. Part 1 Oct. 20, 2005
Posted on 10/19/2005 7:59:04 PM PDT by alfa6
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Frank Luke was born in Phoenix, Arizona Territory, on May 19th, 1897.
Phoenix was then a small town then with a population of 1,500 in 1890. (Imagine!)
Frank Luke was said to be cute but terrifying as a child. Standard parental discipline had only temporary effect.
There are stories of him running off on his own as a small boy and returning after dark with two baby "sheeps" under his arms ("Man said if I could carry 'em I could have 'em."). Frank Sr. proclaimed "any youngster of mine who shows that much interest in dumb animals doesn't get punished for it, and that's that." In another family tale young Frank and his younger sister Otilla tried to collect 100 tarantulas in empty tin cans. The actual number collected is lost. ;-)
In high school Frank ran track and played football and baseball. Frank liked football best. At 5 feet 9 inches and 155 pounds he played fearlessly. He once played the entire second half of a game with a broken collarbone.
The game was rough in those days. The same eleven guys played both offense and defense, there were no shoulder pads (designed to prevent broken collarbones as a matter of fact), and probably no forward passing. The earliest mention of a legal forward pass that I can find is from 1906.
Luke boxed bare-knuckled against the hardest men in the area for $20 to the winner. They say he almost always won. An extremely competitive man, he simply could not be stopped.
Young Luke wanted to fly. When the United States entered the Great War Luke became an Army Pursuit pilot, a fighter pilot as we would say today. It seems to me that that trade at that time and in that war suited his personality.
He had to lie about his college education to go to flight school and become an officer. Oh, the shame, the horror! It seems that no records were required for that sort of thing in those days. People must have been given responsibility as they could handle it. How different it is today!
Luke went to France with something like ten flying hours and put right in a fighter.
Here is a letter to a friend back home Luke sent from France dated April 20, 1918:
Received, two days ago, your letter of March 5 and was very glad to hear from you. Pidge and Perry, from what I hear, failed to get in. It seems that at the time they reached Los Angeles the War Department sent orders not to enlist any more for the aviation branch. I would have liked to have seen Pinney get in. He sure would have had to study, no bluff.
I just passed a double-seater motorcycle. One of the fellows was carrying a pilot who had run into a tree and smashed his head. Gee, it was a tough sight! His eyes were bulged out and his head was one mass of blood. He died a short while after reaching the hospital.The trouble was a bad fog came up just after he left the ground. He tried to land before it reached him but was too late, lost his way, and hit the tree.
Oh, boy, it's great to be up flying, practicing stunts, and looking down on the earth spread out beneath you. But there are always the new graves, in some of them fellows you knew; there because of a faulty machine or bad judgment. Well, boy, it may be me next, but don't tell anyone what I have told you. I would hate to have my mother hear of it, because I tell her it is the safest branch of the service.My address is on the envelope.
This is from Franks diary while in France:
During this training period Frank became friends with Joe Wehner. Both were exceptional athletes and skilled pilots, though Wehner was from Boston and had attended Phillips Exeter, a famous prep school of the day, and had traveled in Europe before the War while Luke was from the sticks.
On July 20th, 1918 Frank and Joe were assigned to the 27th Aero Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group.
The 27th Eagle Squadron was right on the sharp end. (The 94th Hat in the Ring Squadron, Rickenbackers outfit, was also in the 1st Pursuit Group. Rickenbacker knew Luke, and said of him that He is the only man I know of without fear. Rickenbacker is saying, I believe, that Luke was the only man he had known who had completely mastered his fear.)
Eagle Squadrons commander, Maj. Harold Hartney, was a Canadian ace with two years in the war and unconventional ideas about how a pursuit squadron should be organized and led. Hartney fostered individualism, stressed individual initiative, and taught extreme tactics and maneuvers. Under his command Eagle Squadron became the AEF's best during the spring and early summer of 1918.
When Luke and Wehner arrived at the 27th Major Hartney gave them a welcoming speech. Here is one listeners memory:
You men stand in front of me today (but) within two weeks each and every one of you will be dead - cold dead - unless you weigh what I say. "You are going to be surprised in the first, second or third trip over the line and, despite all I can say right now, you will never know there is an enemy ship near you until you notice you windshield disintegrating or until a sharp sting interrupts your breathing. "School is over. You have a man's job... so when you get up there over the lines and you find you want to come back that means you're yellow. I do not ask you to be brave enough to go over, I only ask you to have enough guts to come back and tell me so and get to hell out of this outfit.
You are in the 27th in name only. When you have shown your buddies out there that you have guts and can play the game honestly and courageously, they'll probably let you stay. You'll know without without my telling you when you are actually members of this gang. It's up to you.
Major Hartney trained rookie fighter pilots by putting them in the air and attacking them, proving over and over what he had learned in two years of aerial combat: When you see one Hun, look for the second. Watch for the Hun in the sun. Keep your head moving. Don't dive to shake a Boche on your tail. Shoot to kill.
To survive by some miracle two years as a fighter pilot on the Western Front Hartney must have been more than lucky. Luke was training under a master. Major Hartney taught that air-to-air fighting was not decided by stunt flying but by marksmanship, surprise, nerve, teamwork, and by taking advantage of even a split second enemy weakness. Hey, war is still that way for sure.
Luke would be just one of the unremembered dead without Major Hartney, I think.
The 27th Squadron pilots did not like Frank Luke. Real hostility, I mean. Ostracism. He made only three friends in the Group. After the war, Hartney described Luke:
Bashful, self-conscious, and decidedly not a mixer...his reticence was interpreted as conceit. In fact, this preyed on his mind to such an extent that he became almost a recluse, with an air of sullenness, which was not that at all.
Luke's self-confidence caused most of the pilots in the group to regard him as a boastful four-flusher and many of them never liked him, even to the end, in spite of his extraordinary accomplishments. You could not altogether blame them. Frank was unfortunate in frequently giving the wrong impression.
One day George Jordan, a veteran sergeant of the 147th, told me he had been chatting with Luke as a German plane flew over. Looking up, Luke said, "Gee, that plane would be a cinch for me." This and many similar remarks would certainly indicate a high degree of boastfulness but I really believe they were nothing of the sort. I think they were simply the honest confidence of a zealous but not-too-diplomatic boy.
The Squadron called him "The Arizona Boaster" according to Quentin Reynolds.