Six Brief Profiles of Awesomely Iconic Men.
About five miles east of the French village of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, in a sprawling meadow cooled by silent mistrals riding down from the hillsides, lies the body of a boy from Phoenix. A boy, but a warrior in full.
Frank Luke Jr. is buried in France, but his accomplishments in the theater of battle immortalized him in Arizona, where his name graces an Air Force base, numerous statues and plaques, and the border town of Lukeville. His distinction: The 21-year-old was perhaps the most fearsome fighter ace of World War I.
Born to German immigrants in Phoenix on May 19, 1897, Luke was an athletic, hard-nosed kid. He bare-knuckle boxed for fun, honing the lightning-fast reactions that would later serve him in the air. In April 1917, he enlisted in the U.S. Signal Corp’s aviation section – the precursor to the U.S. Air Force – to receive pilot’s training. Little more than a year later, Luke was flying sorties over France in his SPAD XIII biplane, dispatching German fighters and heavily-defended observation balloons with such icy aplomb he earned the nickname “The Arizona Balloon Buster.”
Luke – both admired and reviled by his comrades for his arrogance and authority-bucking ways – would not have a long career. He scored his first kill on