LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. --
The 56th Fighter Wing and members of the local community memorialized the 100th anniversary of the death of Arizona-native 2nd Lt. Frank Luke Jr., a World War I ace fighter pilot and the namesake of Luke Air Force Base, Sept. 26, 2018, in a ceremony at the state capitol in Phoenix.
The ceremony included a flyover and speeches commemorating the accomplishments and legacy of Luke. Attendees included the 56th FW leadership team, state representatives, city officials from throughout the Valley, relatives of Luke, and representatives from the Arizona governor’s office.
“Because of Lt. Luke’s expertise, courage and innovation a pilot training base was named in his honor,” said Dr. Joseph Cuffari, the Arizona governor’s military and veterans affairs policy advisor. “Luke Air Force Base continues to be a greater part of our nation’s security, training fighter pilots who exhibit the same innovation, courage, and expertise Luke showed over the battlefields of Europe.”
Over the course of 18 days from Sept. 12 to Sept. 29, 1918, Frank Luke Jr. shot down 14 German observation balloons and four aircraft, becoming the second most successful American fighter ace of WWI. On his final mission, Luke was wounded by enemy fire and crashed behind enemy lines, where he was quickly surrounded. Instead of surrendering, Luke drew his sidearm and fired at the enemy until he was killed.
“Frank Luke Jr. was born [to] German immigrant[s] in May 1897 in Phoenix, Ariz.,” said Brig. Gen. Todd Canterbury, 56th FW commander. “Frank Luke Jr.’s spirit reflected that of his pioneering father and the rough and tumble life of the Old West.”
For his actions, Luke was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the first ever to be given to an aviator. Canterbury affirmed that Luke’s legacy drives the passion and commitment that the 56th FW has for training the world’s greatest fighter pilots and combat-ready Airmen.
“Frank Luke Jr., the Arizona Balloon Buster, is one of the bravest men to ever wear the wings of the aviation section,” Canterbury said. “Innovation, fueled by Airmen like Lt. Luke, is in our heritage. The legacy of Lt. Luke continues today as we continue to train the next generation of fighter pilots.”