The 1911’s Birthday and Lt. Frank Luke Jr.

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 1911 – which is today – I thought I would share a story about the first American airman to win the Medal of Honor with a 1911 in hand.

His name was Frank Luke and when I was a young whipper-snapper I was obsessed with WWI fighter pilots. To me, Frank Luke was a hero that represented the American fighting spirit. His exploits left such an impression on me I named my first son “Luke”

But that’s not important. What is important is what Lt. Frank Luke accomplished in 18 days and how his life ended on 29, September 1918.

Between 12 September, 1918 and 29, September 1918 Frank Luke became the most accomplished American fighter pilot in WWI. He shot down 5 airplanes and 14 observation balloons. He was known as the Balloon Buster and was dreadfully feared by the German crews that manned these floating gas bags.

On 29 September, while flying over Murvaux, France Luke shot down 3 ballons and was hit in the shoulder by anti-aircraft fire. He had to land his Spad XIII in a field near the town.

Gravely wounded, Luke abandoned his plane and headed for the cover of a nearby creek. The Germans were close behind. While opinions vary on what happened next, it is accepted that Luke, with his last few breaths, pulled his 1911 and engaged the enemy before succumbing to his wound. He was buried behind a small church in the town by the French residents and posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Born on 19 May 1897, Frank was just 22 years old when he joined the Signal Corps. One year to the day after he arrived at School of Military Aeronautics, Frank Luke Jr. would be dead. He was from Phoeniz, Arizona and eventually Luke Air Force Base was named after him. In the Phoenix airport there is Spad XIII hanging from the ceiling which is painted just like one of the airplanes Luke fought in.

Frank Luke's Spad XIII in the Phoenix Airport

The irony of this story is that since 1918 airplanes have advanced in leaps and bounds compared to the Spad XIII Luke flew. It was one of the best airplanes of its day but pales in comparison to the jet fighters of our modern Air Force. Like his airplane, Luke’s pistol, the Colt 1911, was considered the finest fighting pistol of the day. And, it is still, almost 100 years later, thought by many to be the preeminent fighting pistol of all time.

Time changes most everything and there is no question the 1911 pistol has improved since 1918. However, it is still the same basic pistol Lt. Frank Luke used to fight out his last moments and is the first choice of many who think they might need to trust their life to a pistol some day.

Colt's Anniversary 1911 is a replica of the 1911 Frank Luke carried in 1918.

NOTE: For more information on Medal of Honor winner Lt. Frank Luke, I strongly suggest you read a book entitled, The Stand by Stephen Skinner. It is an excellent account of Frank Luke’s life and one of the most detailed hitorical investigations I have ever examined.

The Stand by Stephen Skinner

Follow The Stand: The Final Flight of Frank Luke Jr. on FACEBOOK


About gunwriter

Born and raised in the West Virginia hills, Richard literally grew up in the woods. He has chased coon hounds until daylight, waited out whitetails perched high in an oak, canoed the New River and hunted from the Montana Mountains to the Green Hills of Africa. During service in the Army and later as a municipal police officer and Special Agent with the railroad police, Richard obtained numerous certifications in small arms instruction. He has trained military personnel, law enforcement officers and civilians in the application of firearms for defensive, competitive and recreational use. Richard won the West Virginia Governor’s Twenty Award for law enforcement, the West Virginia National Guard State Pistol Competition and earned his Distinguished Medal with pistol. Badge turned in, Richard is now a contributing editor for several magazines. He was the compiling author of the book, Rifle Bullets for the Hunter and conceptualized and contributed to Selecting and Ordering a Custom Hunting Rifle. Richard also contributed a chapter to the John Velke book, The True Story of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency. Richard has patents on a riflescope reticle and a revolutionary bullet testing media. A hillbilly at heart, Richard lives on Shadowland - his shooting range in West Virginia - with the most understanding wife in the world, their three kids and a very protective ridgeback hound.
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5 Responses to The 1911’s Birthday and Lt. Frank Luke Jr.

  1. Pingback: Happy Birthday to You! | Shooting Illustrated

  2. Pingback: 1911′s Birthday and Lt. Frank Luke Jr. | GunPundit

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