In the days and weeks following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, enlistment and recruiting offices across the nation were flooded with volunteers. Birmingham Alabama saw 600 men in the first few hours, alone. In Boston, lines snaked out the door as men waited for hours, to volunteer.
But for his age, Jack Lucas would have been right there with them.
At 5’8″ and a muscular 180-pounds, Jacklyn Harrell “Jack” Lucas was big for his age. On August 8, 1942, Lucas forged his mother’s signature on parental consent papers and claimed to be seventeen, enlisting in the United States Marine Corps. He was fourteen years old.
A year later, a letter to a girlfriend from V Amphibious Corps at Pearl Harbor, revealed his true age of fifteen. Military censors had Lucas removed from his combat unit and nearly sent him home, but Jack was vehement. He was assigned to driving a truck, but this was a problem. Being in the “rear with the gear” was not his idea of military service. Lucas got into so many fights he was court-martialed, sentenced to five months of breaking rocks, given nothing but bread & water.
Lucas was released from the brig in January 1945, when he deserted his post, stowing away on the transport USS Deuel to get closer to the action. He turned himself in on February 8, volunteering to fight. Jack turned seventeen on February fourteen. Six days later, he got his wish.
February 20 was day two of the five-week battle for Iwo Jima, some of the bloodiest fighting of the Pacific war, in WW2. Advancing toward a Japanese airstrip under heavy fire, Lucas and three Marines took shelter in a trench, only to realize there were eleven Japanese soldiers, barely feet away. He managed to shoot two when his rifle jammed, looking down as that first grenade, came over the parapet.
Without a moment’s thought, Lucas dove over his fellow Marine and onto the grenade, as another fell by his side. Let his Medal of Honor citation, pick up the story:
“Quick to act when the lives of the small group were endangered by two grenades which landed directly in front of them, Private First Class Lucas unhesitatingly hurled himself over his comrades upon one grenade and pulled the other one under him, absorbing the whole blasting force of the explosions in his own body in order to shield his companions from the concussion and murderous flying fragments”.
Only when a second company moved through the area, did someone realize he was still alive.
Six days later, Jack Lucas’ deserter classification was removed from his record. In time, all seventeen of his military convictions were overturned. He’d endure twenty-one surgeries and even then, no fewer than two hundred pieces of metal remained in his body, some the size of .22-caliber bullets.
Jack Lucas was ruled unfit for duty and discharged on September 18, 1945. He was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S Truman, on October 5, at seventeen the youngest recipient of the nation’s highest award for military valor, since the Civil War.
The man had more than earned the name “indestructible”, but wait. There’s more.
Lucas earned a business degree and returned to military service at age thirty-one, this time with the 82nd Airborne, of the United States Army. On one training jump, both parachutes failed. Somehow, Lucas fell 3,500-feet and sustained only minor injuries. According to his team leader, “Jack was the last one out of the plane and the first one on the ground“.
Two weeks later, he was back to jumping out of perfectly good aircraft.
Lucas was married several times in civil life, including to one woman, who attempted to have him killed. He later wrote his autobiography with help from writer D.K. Drum, appropriately entitled, “Indestructible”.
The USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7) is a Wasp-class amphibious assault vessel, commissioned in 2001. When her keel was laid, Jack Lucas placed his Medal of Honor citation inside her hull, where it remains, to this day.
On August 3, 2006, sixteen living Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipients including Jack Lucas were presented the Medal of Honor flag by Commandant of the Marine Corps General Michael Hagee, in front of over a thousand family, friends, and fellow Marines. Lucas commented, “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.”
The Indestructible Jacklyn Lucas died of Leukemia on June 5, 2008. He was eighty years old. On September 18, 2016, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced plans to build a new Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. DDG-125 is expected to be commissioned in 2023, to be named in his honor, the USS Jack H. Lucas.
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