Postal Updates

‘Arizona Balloon Buster’ pilot the topic of two Aripex pictorial postmarks

Feb 26, 2018, 10 AM

Postmark Pursuit — By Molly Goad

The Aripex 2018 stamp show’s two official cancellations honor World War I fighter pilot Frank Luke Jr. The two designs were available at the show Feb. 16 and 17 (one per day), but if you weren’t able to attend, there’s still time to obtain the postmarks.

The postmarks feature an eagle and biplanes to celebrate Phoenix-born Luke, son of German immigrants.

When the United States went to war against Germany, Luke joined the United States Army Air Service and headed to Austin, Texas, and Rockwell, Calif., for training. Shortly thereafter, Luke received a commission as second lieutenant and traveled to France for further combat training.

On July 25, 1918, Luke was assigned to the 27th Aero Squadron under Harold Hartney. Often flying solo or with his buddy Joseph Wehner, Luke shot down 18 enemy balloons and planes in just 18 days, earning him the nickname “Arizona Balloon Buster” featured on the postmarks.

After shooting down three German balloons on Sept. 29, 1918, Luke’s biplane was grounded. He exchanged fire with German soldiers and ultimately died near the crash site at age 21.

Luke was posthumously awarded the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor, as well as numerous international awards. Luke’s family donated the medal to the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio.

According to the museum’s exhibit, “His exceptional bravery initially earned him a reputation for being ‘wild and reckless.’ His fellow pilots soon realized, though, that Luke had a quality that set him apart as a great fighter pilot — he was completely fearless.”

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The exhibit also displays his flying goggles, the gunsight from his last airplane and other personal items.

Luke Field in Hawaii and Luke Air Force Base near Glendale, Ariz., were named in his honor.