Jack Lucas was a fighter in more ways than one.
He will be remembered for two fights — the one for his life and the one that resulted in him receiving the Medal of Honor.
Jack Lucas died Thursday at the age of 80. The Plymouth native leaves a legacy of being a true American hero. His story deserves retelling, not just because of his death but because it’s inspiring at any time.
Jacklyn H. Lucas was six days past his 17th birthday in February 1945 when his acts of heroism at Iwo Jima resulted in him receiving the nation’s highest military honor, which is awarded by Congress.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor enraged Lucas, who was 13 at the time of the attack.
Lucas forged his mother’s signature on his enlistment papers and entered the Marine Corps at the age of 14. Upon his completion of boot camp, Lucas was shipped off to Hawaii, where he was assigned to a supply unit.
Lucas began writing letters home to his young sweetheart which revealed his true age. His letters caught the attention of a mail censor who brought Lucas before his colonel for an explanation.
The colonel decided Lucas was a fit Marine but too young for combat. When his unit shipped out, Lucas stayed in Hawaii.
Distraught over the colonel’s decision, Lucas stayed in trouble for fighting and even was jailed on occasion until he decided to leave for Pearl Harbor. There, with the help of his cousin — a fellow Marine — Lucas boarded a ship bound for Iwo Jima and hid in one of the vessel’s landing craft.
Lucas turned himself in just one day before his name was to be added to the deserter list. Then, Capt. Robert H. Dunlap decided to accept Lucas into his unit.
When a fellow soldier fell ill, Lucas took his place. Less than a week after his 17th birthday, Lucas hit the beach at Iwo Jima.
Lucas and his team were firing at Japanese soldiers within an enemy foxhole when a wave of Japanese soldiers took them by surprise. Lucas fired shots. Just after he had killed the last soldier, his gun jammed. Looking down to clear it, Lucas saw two grenades on the ground in front of his comrades.
He yelled to alert them of the immediate danger and threw himself upon one of the grenades, which he was able to bury under a layer of volcanic sand; he grabbed the other in his hand. The one is his hand never exploded, Lucas said, but he was still holding it when the other detonated, blowing him over on his back.
He absorbed the impact of the grenade, saving his fellow Marines from injury and possibly death.
Expecting him to be dead, Lucas’ comrades were shocked to find him alive and alert. He was transported to a hospital ship.
More than 200 pieces of shrapnel marred his body, necessitating 22 operations.
President Harry Truman presented Lucas with the Medal of Honor on Oct. 5, 1945.
Adm. Chester Nimitz said this about Iwo Jima: “For those who fought on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
Jack Lucas knew about heroes. It takes one to know one. Jack Lucas knew about uncommon valor. He helped define it.
Semper Fidelis, Jack Lucas.