Saturday, April 30, 2011

Luke Field

No one could question the combat skill of 2nd Lt Frank Luke, earned in the skies of Europe in 1918.  His 18 kills were second only to Eddie Rickenbacker who said of Luke, “He was the most daring aviator and greatest fighter pilot of the entire war.”  But he had a reputation as a renegade, who preferred to fight alone and who was known to frequently disobey orders. 

On the evening of September 29, 1918 Luke left the airfield at Verdun and proceeded to the front to attack three balloons behind the German lines.  He was subsequently wounded and forced to land in a field west of Murvaux.  Luke fell shortly after removing himself from the aircraft and according to eyewitness he crawled almost 250 feet to a nearby creek in an attempt to hide in the underbrush.  The German soldiers who helped bring Luke down pursued him in hopes of capturing the American pilot before he could escape.  Luke, knowing that his wound was fatal raised himself to face his captors and fired his pistol in their direction before collapsing to the ground dead.  He died with the same defiant moxy with which he had lived. 
The Germans buried Luke’s body in the Murvaux cemetery but his remains were later recovered by U.S. forces and reburied in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial, located east of the village of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon.

As a result of his actions 2nd Lt Frank Luke was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor which was presented to his father, Frank Luke, Sr in Phoenix, Arizona in May 1919.  The citation reads,

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 8 German planes which were protecting the enemy balloon line, he unhesitatingly attacked and shot down in flames 3 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 6 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
Ford Island in 1925.  Luke Field is in the center of the island with Army air operations to the left and the Naval Air Station to the right.

On April 30, 1919 shortly before the presentation of Luke’s award, he received recognition of another kind when the new airstrip on Ford Island in the territory of Hawaii was named after him.  The War Department purchased the land in 1917 and moved the 6th Aero Squadron there in October of that same year.

Luke Field in the 1930s
Luke Field would remain under Army control through the earliest days of aviation and was home to a good portion of the Army’s air operations until the establishment of Hickam Field in 1939.  At that time all of the Army Air Corps activities formerly at Luke would be moved to Hickam with the exception of the Hawaiian Air Depot which remained on Ford Island until late 1940.

With this transfer the airfield and facilities on Ford Island came under the control the U.S. Navy and Naval Air Station Pearl Harbor, which had already been established on the opposite side of Ford Island in 1923.  With the onset of World War Two the island saw a massive buildup and the airstrip, formerly known as Luke Field became a central hub for the Navy’s Pacific air operations.