U.S. WWI Aviator Fighter Ace Frank Luke Jr. Named Visor Cap - Medal of Honor Recipient
Original Item: One-of-a-kind. This Visor cap comes from the phenomenal "Named Uniform Collection" originating from Indiana from which we purchased; Eddie Rickenbacker's WW1 Visor Cap, Jimmy Stewart's WW2 Army Air Force Uniform, Sergeant Bilko's 1955 Phil Silver's Show Visor cap, all of which sold immediately.
This cap was acquired from the 50 year-old collection of an American recluse whose family wishes to remain anonymous. This is one item of about 150 named pieces of notable American soldiers dating from WW1 and WW2. We have been fortunate to receive a few items from the initial release by his estate and plan to bring other items from this truly spectacular collection to the market in the coming months.
This Visor hat is typical of the WW1 U.S. Army Air Service and bears a white cloth tag attached to the leather sweatband that reads:
On the opposite side of the leather sweatband impressed into the leather is the manufacturer information:
This original peaked leather Visor hat is offered very good display condition and is correct in all respects. The interior crown lining has split with age.
We are certainly aware that there is no provenance associated with this hat and that the label could have been added after the war. Our belief in its authenticity stems from the collection from which it came. Nearly every other piece in this collection, and it is sizeable, has passed our standards for historical accuracy, provenance, and history of trade (previous auctions, dealers, etc ). Therefore, since we have nothing other than the label inside this hat naming it to Frank Luke, we have priced it very reasonably, should such provenance come to light in the future the value of this hat would increase by multiples.
Although we cannot reveal the name of the collector from whom this piece comes as the family wishes to maintain their privacy we will supply the buyer with a sanitized copy of the invoice we received with this Visor hat and other named uniforms as a reference.
Second lieutenant Frank Luke, known as the Arizona Balloon Buster, at the age of just 21 years old was assigned to the 27th Aero Squadron commanded by Harold Hartley on July 25th. 1918.
He was considered a "wild man" in that he displayed amazing courage and nerve shooting down eighteen enemy Balloons and planes in just 8 days!
On September 29th 1918 Luke's SPAD XIII (S7984) was shot down by ground fire. He survived the crash landing behind enemy lines but then chose to resist capture, shot it out with the approaching German soldiers, and was killed near the crash site. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Frank Luke was the first airman to receive that award.
History of FRANK LUKE-
Frank Luke Jr. (May 19, 1897 September 29, 1918) was an American fighter ace, ranking second among U.S. Army Air Service pilots after Captain Eddie Rickenbacker in number of aerial victories during World War I (Rickenbacker was credited with 26 victories, while Luke's official score was 18). Frank Luke was the first airman to receive the Medal of Honor. Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, a U.S. Air Force pilot training installation since World War II, is named in his honor.
Luke was born May 19, 1897 in Phoenix, Arizona after his family emigrated from Germany to America in 1873 and settled in Arizona. Frank was his family's fifth child, and he grew up excelling in sports, working in copper mines, and participating in bare-knuckle boxing matches. Following America's entry into World War I in April 1917, Frank enlisted in the Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps on September 25, 1917, and received pilot training in Texas and California. After being commissioned a Second Lieutenant in March 1918, he deployed to France for further training, and in July was assigned to the 27th Aero Squadron. Although Luke was still a second lieutenant at the time of his death, Stephen Skinner's book "The Stand" notes that he later received a posthumous promotion to first lieutenant.
Because of his arrogance and his occasional tendencies to fly alone and to disobey orders, Luke was disliked by some of his peers and superiors. But the 27th was under standing orders to destroy German observation balloons. Because of this, Luke, along with his close friend Lt. Joseph Frank Wehner, continually volunteered to attack these important targets despite the fact that they were heavily defended by anti-aircraft guns on the ground. The two pilots began a remarkable string of victories together, with Luke attacking the balloons and Wehner flying protective cover. Wehner was killed in action on September 18, 1918, in a dogfight with Fokker D.VIIs which were attacking Luke. Luke then shot down two of these D.VIIs and two balloons, thereby achieving his 13th official kill - a Halberstadt C type observation plane of 'Flieger Abteilung' 36.
Between September 12 and September 29, Luke was credited with shooting down 14 German balloons and four airplanes. Luke earned these 18 victories during just ten sorties in eight days, a feat unsurpassed by any pilot in World War I.
Death - September 29, 1918
Luke's final flight took place during the first phase of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. On September 28, after achieving his 14th and 15th victories, he landed his SPAD XIII at the French aerodrome at Cicognes where he spent the night, claiming engine trouble. When he returned to the 1st Pursuit Group's base at Rembercourt the next day, he was confronted by Lt. Grant, his squadron's commanding officer (C.O.). Despite being under threat of arrest by Grant for being AWOL, Luke took off without authorization and flew to a forward airbase at Verdun, where his sympathetic Group commander, Major Hartney, cancelled the arrest order and gave Luke tacit approval to continue his balloon hunting. That evening Luke flew to the front to attack three balloons in the vicinity of Dun-sur-Meuse, six miles behind the German lines. He first dropped a message to a nearby U.S. balloon company, alerting them to observe his imminent attacks. Luke shot down the enemy balloons, but was then severely wounded by a single machinegun bullet fired from a hilltop above him, a mile east of the last balloon site he had attacked. Luke landed in a field just west of the small village of Murvaux- after strafing a group of German soldiers on the ground - near the Ruisseau de Bradon, a stream leading to the Meuse River. Although weakened by his wound, he made his way toward the stream, intending to reach the cover of its adjacent underbrush, but finally collapsed some 200 meters from his airplane. Approached by German infantry, Luke drew his Colt Model 1911 pistol and fired a few rounds at his attackers before dying. Reports that a day later his body was found with an empty gun and a bullet hole in his chest, with seven dead Germans in front of him were proven erroneous. According to author Skinner, the fatal bullet, fired from the hilltop machine gun position, had entered near Luke's right shoulder, passed through his body, and exited from his left side.
On September 30 the Germans buried Luke in the Murvaux cemetery, from where his body was retrieved two months later by American forces. His final resting place is the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial, located east of the village of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon.
After the US Army obtained sworn testimony from French and American sources, Luke was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor. The presentation was made to Frank Luke, Sr., in Phoenix in May 1919. The family later donated the medal to the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio. The Museum's small exhibit honoring Lt Frank Luke also contains his flying goggles, the gunsight from his last SPAD, documents written by Luke, and other personal items. The Museum's Early Years Gallery displays a fully restored SPAD XIII of the type flown by Luke.
Eddie Rickenbacker said of Luke: "He was the most daring aviator and greatest fighter pilot of the entire war. His life is one of the brightest glories of our Air Service. He went on a rampage and shot down fourteen enemy aircraft, including ten balloons, in eight days. No other ace, even the dreaded Richthofen, had ever come close to that."
For several months, the grave was marked with a wooden cross that read, "Unknown American Aviator." To the French people of Murvaux, France, who were eyewitnesses to his last flight, and who buried him with what honors the Germans would permit, this unknown was the hero of the war.
These bits of evidence from various sources, when pieced together led to the identification of this aviator. The cross over his grave now bears the inscription "2nd Lieut. Frank Luke, Jr. Pilot, 27th Aero Squadron; 19 victories. Killed in action Sept. 29, 1918." The young lieutenant's record and details of his last flight disclose a story as inspiring as ever to stir people's admiration, and a death in action as valiant as anyone to ever earn a country's highest award.
His story starts in Phoenix May 19, 1897. Luke grew up in the desert and was known as one of the best athletes at Phoenix High School. He was captain of the track team and a member of the basketball and football teams.
Soon after the U.S. entered World War I, the 20-year old Luke enlisted as a private in the Signal Corps. From there he entered pilot training and entered combat in France as a new member of the 1st Pursuit Group, 27th Aero Squadron.
His exploits ranged only a scant 17 days, but in this time, as records now reflect, he destroyed 14 German balloons and four aircraft, earning him the title of the "Arizona Balloon Buster."
Luke's commander, Maj. H.E. Hartney, said of him, "No one had the sheer contemptuous courage that boy possessed. He was an excellent pilot and probably the best flying marksman on the Western Front. We had any number of expert pilots and there was no shortage of good shots, but the perfect combination, like the perfect specimen of anything in the world, was scarce. Frank Luke was the perfect combination."
While balloons sound insignificant, in WWI's trench warfare environment they were critical. They served as observation posts and enabled both armies to look deep behind one another's lines.
The hydrogen-filled balloons were expensive and of great military value. Normally protected by heavy anti-aircraft gun batteries, there was usually a flight of pursuit planes stationed nearby. To attack a balloon was practically suicide.
But for whatever reason, these were Luke's voluntary objectives. Some surmised it was because of the easy confirmation as the fireball fell from the sky with a plume of smoke. On Sept. 12, 1918, Luke shot down his first balloon.
His last flight was Sept. 29, 1918. At least 13 people in the village of Murvaux, France, watched his final blaze of glory. That little group later made a sworn affidavit of his actions that day..
They said they saw an American aviator with a squadron of Germans pursuing and shooting at him. He descended suddenly and vertically toward the earth, then straightened out and flew toward Briers Farm where he found a German balloon, which he shot up and burned in spite of incessant enemy fire. He destroyed two other balloons while still flying through hostile fire both from troops on the ground and the German fighters.
He did not escape unscathed. Even though already wounded, he attacked one more observation balloon and the Frenchmen saw it burst into flames and plummet to the ground.
Luke descended to within 50 meters of the ground and opened fire on enemy troops, killing six and wounding as many more. But his time was limited. His wounds and the damage to his aircraft forced him to land. As German soldiers surrounded him on all sides, he drew his .45 caliber pistol and defended himself until he fell, mortally wounded from a bullet in his chest.
Infuriated by the savagery of the American's final attack, the German commandant of the village refused to have straw placed in the cart that removed Luke's body. He also refused to allow some women to shroud his body with a sheet. Witnesses reported he kicked Luke's body and snapped, "Get that thing out of my way as quickly as possible."
Two men, Cortlae Delbert and Voliner Nicolas, loaded the Arizonan's body on a wagon, and escorted him to the cemetery and buried him.
In just five consecutive days, Luke had piled up nine victories: eight balloons and one plane.
His courage in combat not only earned him his nickname, but also the Medal of Honor. His awards included the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Italian War Cross and the Aero Club Medal for Bravery. In 1930, the American Society for the Promotion of Aviation named him the nation's greatest air hero.
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