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Book Review: Terror of the Autumn Skies Examines Life of WWI Pilot Frank Luke (VIDEO)Video Book Review by Tim King Salem-News.com
Frank Luke Jr. was the top-ranked U.S. fighter pilot in WWI when he was killed in 1918.
(SALEM, Ore.) - Terror of the Autumn Skies -The True Story of Frank Luke, America’s Rogue Ace of World War 1, is by far the most comprehensive and accurate review of this dashing aviator from Arizona who ruled the skies over France during WW1 for a brief period in 1918.
When I first met the new book’s author, Blaine Pardoe, I had been studying Frank Luke for several years with plans of producing a television documentary on his life and death.
I had interviewed Luke family members in Arizona and I traveled to the places in France where Frank Luke lived, fought, and was killed, while conducting research into the story.
When I was approached by Blaine, and I learned of his background as an author with a spotless reputation and several published books to his credit, I agreed to share several leads and other points of information.
As it turns out, Blaine Pardoe was able to put the story into perspective in a totally compelling way, while concentrating on Luke’s life, rather than just his last few moments that have so thoroughly captivated people over the years.
He also dug up the truth about several parts of the Luke saga that have seemingly been created by past researchers and authors.
Pardoe said he read through different books on Luke aand found them to be kind of contradictory.
"If you read the Whitehouse version; Arch Whitehouse’s version 'Hun Killer' which you couldn’t even publish today with that title, you read about some of the things that happened in there, and then in Norman Hall’s version things don’t match up. The general story is the same but its uh, it’s a little bit different and I was like ‘Geez, you get two guys who were around during the same period who don’t write the same story.’"
Pardoe said the mix matched stories let him see that more clarification was needed, "There had to be more there than I knew, so I decided to start digging into the archival side of this; working at the National Archives, the Smithsonian, the archives in Arizona etc., pulling out the original documentation and that is one of the reasons we are here today; is to really look into the actual root information to see what we could really find."
I caught up with Blaine and researcher Jean Armstrong at the Lafayette Escadrille Museum in Colorado. Here, Director Andy Parks maintains an amazing wealth of WW1 research and aviation artifacts, including flying WW1 planes that are upgraded for modern use and flying. One of the aircraft is shown in the video below.
This museum is where new materials on the Luke story came to light, greatly aiding Blaine Pardoe’s mission to complete the book that is now released, Terror of the Autumn Skies.
But he ran afoul of his commanding officer time and time again and was actually under arrest when he took to the air for the last time. He was also known for flying to French air bases after a mission rather than his own.
The new book follows Luke on some of his journeys to the French aerodromes where he was greatly appreciated as a skilled aviator. To the French this American cowboy was fascinating; while many of the other pilots in his U.S. squadron initially at least, considered him to be a braggart.
But Luke's flying and fighting skills would later be considered among the best exhibited during all of WW1. His skill as a marksman and his piloting ability were a perfect balance, and that is and was, a rare combination.
Blaine Pardoe’s book shows the character that Luke became in his short 21 years. As much as he was remembered for being a renegade pilot, there was a very civil side to this young man, the author says.
"There is very much a boyish, impish side to him, But that is part of what makes this myth work. Part of what makes the Frank Luke story work is, 1912 Arizona becomes a state. This is its first war being part of the United States. Frank Luke is its first hero, Frank Luke is the first hero ever in aviation to win the Medal of Honor, and he is the only guy to win it while he is under arrest."
"He wasn’t the old boy English society, Princeton, Harvard Yale; you didn’t see Frank Luke walking with a walking stick That wasn’t Frank’s style. Frank was sending home machine guns that he captured fromm enemy aircraft. One of the things he told a fellow airman is, 'well that is in case Pancho Villa tries to come across the border again.’"
One thing that would have been high on Frank Luke’s mind was his fiancée Marie Rapson, a person little until now, has been written about. Frank Luke met when he was a student pilot at Rockwell Fiekd, and she was playing the organ for her church choir.
"Marie is one of the pieces of the story… it surprised me because I didn’t think I would be writing anything to do with a romance. We have had scant reference to his fiancée Marie and working with the genealogist Jean Armstrong, we really have be able to go, ‘well who was this person, what was her background and her upbringing?’ And we have just found some things that are remarkable. A 16-year old girl from a broken family in San Diego. She becomes engaged to this dashing pilot who goes off to war while she is engaged to him and it is a fascinating story all on its own because it has a certain sense of tragedy that follows her for her whole life."
Researching the life of Frank Luke Jr. was no easy task for this author who lives near the nation’s capitol, Washington D.C. But before it was over, Blaine became fully involved in pinning down the facts in this compelling and elusive story.
"You know no one: and I have crawled through stacks of information on Frank Luke, both archival and secondary research. And I have worked with some Great authors, I have called those guys on the phone and written them mail and they have sent me down some great paths."
He says that when you get right down to it, there are almost two stories. There is the Frank Luke story, and then the search for Frank Luke.
"Because through the various connections that we have gone through I met up with Jean Armstrong and I was able to say, ‘this is what I am looking of; where is this Royal Frye collection?’ Royal Frye was an Air Force historian from the 60’s who went around looking for the Frank Luke myth and tried to redefine a little bit or clarify the Frank Luke myth. And we found, not just where that was but Jean got bit by the bug and joined us as well and said ‘I can join you from the genealogical side, we started looking up the people around Frank because it is the people around Frank who tell us what the story is."
"WW1 is one of those wars that is a forgotten war, from an American perspective we don’t look at the First World War. Yeah we showed up late to the party but we were there and did have a dance or two. It is the first war where we took part in modern warfare where we defined some of our heroes that really helped us to survive WWII. Frank had a definitive part in that and when you go and talk to fighter pilots today they know who Frank Luke is because Frank’s stories are still being told today to modern day fighter pilots."
The day Frank Luke was killed according to U.S. records, involved the young pilot shooting it out with the Germans in his final moments, OK Corral style. In all likelihood, Luke died from a single anti-aircraft round that struck him in the chest as he flew near the town he crash landed near; Murvaux France. The research trip to Colorado afforded Blaine and the team many new and important puzzle pieces.
The version published by the U.S. Army depicts Frank Luke firing at Germans from three sides after he exited his damaged airplane.
Pardoe said, "The American version here of course is ‘bang bang the classic old western shootout; outnumbered ten to one Luke slugged it out with these guys. There are some armchair historians who want to hop one way and there are armchair historians who want to hop the other. The truth is, we aren’t going to know unless we stood back in time and watch. But I think the key is to present all these perspectives and let a viewer or a reader realize for themselves what they think happened. That is a big piece of what his history is, is look at the facts that are available and your come to your own conclusion what is there."
I was especially moved by the way Blaine brought Frank Luke to life in this exciting new book and I believe that the way the story essentially tells itself is key. The accounts of those who saw him and knew him all existed, but the task required someone who was willing and able to spend the countless hours going over those recollections with a fine tooth comb.
I have had the pleasure of reading Blaine's book on Count Felix von Luckner, The Cruise of the Sea Eagle and I knew I would enjoy this work on Frank Luke; a person I feel is all but forgotten today. I suspect that will change greatly now that this serious and outstanding new account of this aviator's life has been published.
Terror of the Autumn Skies -The True Story of Frank Luke, America’s Rogue Ace of World War 1, is available on Amazon.com and at bookstores. You can also contact Skyhorse Publishing at skyhorsepublishing.com.
Tim King: Salem-News.com Editor and Writer
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With almost 25 years of experience on the west coast and worldwide as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor, Tim King is Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. His background includes covering the war in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007, and reporting from the Iraq war in 2008. Tim is a former U.S. Marine who follows stories of Marines and Marine Veterans; he's covered British Royal Marines and in Iraq, Tim embedded with the same unit he served with in the 1980's.
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