Profiles of Valor: Jack Lucas
“Among the men who fought on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
Jacklyn “Jack” Lucas was a native of Plymouth, North Carolina. After his father’s death when Jack was just 10, his mother sent him to nearby Edwards Military Institute, where he would excel as a cadet captain and as the young captain of the football team.
In August 1942, at the age of 14, Jack, who was large for his age, forged his mother’s signature on a parental consent form, which falsely gave his age as 17, in order to enlist in the Marine Corps Reserve at Norfolk, Virginia. After some initial details, he went to the 25th Replacement Battalion, successfully completed schooling at Camp Lejeune, and was then qualified as a heavy machine gun crewman. From there it was to the V Amphibious Corps at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where he was promoted to Private First Class. After the Marine Corps discovered his actual age, he was not discharged but instead ordered to serve as a driver.
On January 10, 1945, having established himself as a maverick who was determined to go where the action was, Lucas left his post at Pearl Harbor and was declared AWOL. He stowed away on the USS Deuel among other 1st Battalion, 26th Marines on their way to Iwo Jima. A day before he would have been declared a “deserter,” he surrendered to the commanding officer of C Company, but their being unaware of his age, he was then assigned to that Company as a rifleman — but was busted back to Private.
On February 19, he was part of the 5th Division’s landing on Iwo Jima. A day later, his second day of combat and just six days after actually turning 17, he and his three other fire team Marines were working their way toward a Japanese airstrip when they were besieged by enemy soldiers.
According to his Medal of Honor citation: “While creeping through a treacherous, twisting ravine which ran in close proximity to a fluid and uncertain front line on D-day plus one, Pfc. Lucas and three other men were suddenly ambushed by a hostile patrol which savagely attacked with rifle fire and grenades. Quick to act when the lives of the small group were endangered by two grenades which landed directly in front of them, Pfc. Lucas unhesitatingly hurled himself over his comrades upon one grenade and pulled the other under him, absorbing the whole blasting forces of the explosions in his own body in order to shield his companions from the concussion and murderous flying fragments. By his inspiring action and valiant spirit of self-sacrifice, he not only protected his comrades from certain injury or possible death but also enabled them to rout the Japanese patrol and continue the advance. His exceptionally courageous initiative and loyalty reflect the highest credit upon Pfc. Lucas and the U.S. Naval Service.”
The remaining Marines, believing Lucas had been killed by the blast, and having killed the remaining Japanese soldiers in their trench, pushed forward with their mission. It was later that Lucas was discovered barely alive by other Marines, and after a Navy corpsman attended to his wounds, he was evacuated by stretcher bearers to the beach behind them, loaded onto an LST to a cargo ship making due as an emergency hospital ship, and finally sent to the hospital ship Samaritan.
It was a full five weeks before he made it back to the West Coast. He would undergo 27 surgeries but he would live out his days with more than 200 grenade fragments in his body. In his later years, he made light of how those fragments would set off airport security metal detectors. In September 1945, he would be discharged from the Marine Corps, after his rank of Private First Class was restored.
A month later, he was presented the Medal of Honor by President Harry Truman at a White House ceremony, with his mother and brother in attendance, along with Adm. Chester Nimitz and Secretary of Defense James Forrestal. He was one of 22 Iwo Jima Marines to receive our nation’s highest award for valor — and the youngest World War II recipient.
Admiral Chester Nimitz famously observed, “Among the men who fought on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
In 1961, Lucas enlisted with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division as a paratrooper — to dispense with his fear of heights. Amazingly, he survived one training jump after his main and reserve parachutes failed to fully deploy. He said he forcefully rolled as he was hitting the ground, to which he attributes his survival. He volunteered for Vietnam but was not allowed to go because of his injuries. He retired as a Captain from Ft. Bragg in 1965.
Fittingly, his biography is titled Indestructible.
In later life, Lucas fell on hard times. He operated a chain of butcher shops until 1975, when the IRS put him out of business for back taxes — which also cut off his disability stipend. In 1977, two relatives conspired to kill him for insurance money, but after their arrest he pleaded for the court’s mercy and they were released on probation. A decade later, he was living in a mobile home on what remained of his life savings when it burned to the ground. It is certain that he suffered from what we now diagnose as post-traumatic stress disorder.
In 2000, when the keel of the USS Iwo Jima was laid, Lucas placed his Medal of Honor citation in the ship’s hull, and it remains sealed there today. In August 2006, Jack and 15 other Marine Medal of Honor recipients were presented Medal of Honor flags in front of a large audience at the Marine Barracks in Washington, DC, by Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee. Lucas said: “To have these young men here in our presence — it just rejuvenates this old heart of mine. I love the Corps even more knowing that my country is defended by such fine young people.”
Jack died in June 2008, but earlier this month, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Jack H. Lucas was commissioned into active service. His example of valor — an American Patriot defending Liberty for all and his fellow warriors at great risk to himself — is eternal.
Join us in prayer for our nation’s Military Patriots, Veterans, First Responders, and their families. “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
(Please consider a designated gift to support the National Medal of Honor Sustaining Fund through Patriot Foundation Trust (https://patriotfoundationtrust.org), or make a check payable to: NMoH Sustaining Fund and mail it to Patriot Foundation Trust, PO Box 407, Chattanooga, TN 37401-0407.)
Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776
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