Surprisingly, the history of Arizona is connected to the two fighter jets that shot down the Chinese balloon on Saturday afternoon near Myrtle Beach.
Their call signs, “Frank01” and “Frank02,” were chosen to pay tribute to 2nd Lieutenant Frank Luke, a pilot from Phoenix who served in World War I and was responsible for shooting down many German spy balloons and airplanes. Military planes employ call signals for identification and safety purposes when communicating.
The Air Force History and Museums website calls Luke the “most remarkable air fighter of World War I” and the public quickly dubbed him the “Arizona Balloon Buster.” In January of 1918, he enrolled in the Signal Corps Aviation Section, and after further training in Issoudun, France, he shot down his first airplane on August 16 of that year. Lt. Luke was awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses for his service.
At the age of 21, he was slain on a secret balloon-hunting mission behind enemy lines. Luke received the Medal of Honor posthumously. There is an inscription on the medal, which reads as follows:
Severely wounded, Lieutenant Luke 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 six 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.
-Air Force History & Museums
Actually, the Arizona State Capitol built a statue of him on Armistice Day in 1930, and Luke Air Force Base is also named for him.
The president’s V.P., Joe Biden, issued the directive, but he had originally wanted the balloon to be brought down on Wednesday. U.S. officials claimed he was advised that the operation would be most successful when over water.
Officials in the military judged that sending it down over land from 60,000 feet would be too dangerous for civilians.
In response, China said it would “take further actions” and called the U.S.’s response “an evident overreaction and a serious violation of international practice.”
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