Write Again . . . It was “to save my buddies”

Published 1:01 pm Tuesday, March 17, 2015

My friend Jack Pyburn, himself a World War II veteran, knows that I am quite a history buff regarding that period.

The World War II era, the Great War (later called World War I), and the story/history of the Jewish people, are at the top of my history interests. Just about anything pertaining to those topics interests me, and has for many years. As in six decades. My readings have been wide and deep, and prodigiously so.

Recently Jack sent me a brochure he obtained at the WWII museum in New Orleans telling of the Medal of Honor recipients from that war.

This award, the highest honor our country can bestow upon an individual for valor in combat, is presented “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty.”

Please take a moment and read that sentence again. It’s more, so much more, than just words.

More than 16 million people served with the American armed forces during World War II, but only 464 were singled out to receive the Medal of Honor.

I am reminded of a morning maybe 20 or so years ago when I took a seat at a booth in a local eating establishment. I didn’t know one of the men seated there. Someone said, “Bartow, this is Jack Lucas.”

Then — then, he said, “Jack is a Congressional Medal of Honor winner.”

Oh, my. Oh, my, my, my.

I had heard of Jack. I knew his story. Or at least the WWII part. And his younger brother Ed, a former Pam Pack football great, is a friend of mine.

Jack Lucas’s story is compelling, almost like a Hollywood war movie script. Except that it happened, was real.

He lied about his age in order to join the Marine Corps. He was in his teens. He was 14! This untruth finally caught up with him, but by then he was on a troop ship heading for the war in the Pacific.

Let me tell you just a bit about Jacklyn Lucas. Rather, let me share with you verbatim from James Bradley’s book “Flags of Our Fathers”.

“Some of the fiercest of these ‘boys’ were just that: kids barely out of childhood. Jacklyn Lucas was an example. He’d fast-talked his way into the Marines at fourteen, fooling the recruiters with his muscled physique and martinet style — he’d attended a military academy before signing up. Assigned to drive a truck in Hawaii, he had grown frustrated; he wanted to fight. He stowed away on a transport out of Honolulu, surviving on food passed along to him by sympathetic leathernecks on board.

“He landed on D-Day (Pacific) without a rifle. He grabbed one lying on the beach and fought his way inland.

“Now, on D + 1, Jack and three comrades were crawling through a trench when eight Japanese sprang in front of them. Jack shot one through the head. Then his rifle jammed. As he struggled with it a grenade landed at his feet. He yelled a warning to the others and rammed the grenade into the soft ash. Immediately, another grenade rolled in. Jack Lucas, (now) seventeen, fell on both grenades. ‘Luke, you’re gonna die,’ he remembered thinking.

“Jack Lucas later told a reporter: ‘The force of the explosion blew me up into the air and onto my back. Blood poured out of my mouth and I couldn’t move. I knew I was dying.’ His comrades wiped out the remaining Japanese and returned to Jack, to collect the dog tags from his body. To their amazement, they found him not only alive but conscious . . . He endured twenty-one reconstructive operations and became the nation’s youngest Medal of Honor winner — and the only high school freshman to receive it.

“When I asked him, fifty-three years after the event, ‘Mr. Lucas, why did you jump on those grenades?’ he did not hesitate with his answer: ‘To save my buddies.’”

Jack later graduated from Duke, and became a U.S. Army officer.