MEET Jack Lucas; A Real Bad Ass
Jack Lucas, who at 14 lied his way into the military to serve in World War II and became the youngest marine ever to receive the Medal of Honor, died in 2008 in Hattiesburg, Miss., where he made his home. He was 80.
Mr. Lucas had been hospitalized with leukemia and died after asking doctors to remove a dialysis machine, said his wife, Ruby.
Jacklyn Lucas, known as Jack, was just six days past his 17th birthday when, in February 1945, his heroism at Iwo Jima earned him the medal. He used his body to shield three members of his squad from two grenades and was nearly killed when one exploded.
“A couple of grenades rolled into the trench,” Mr. Lucas said in an interview with The Associated Press shortly before he received the medal from President Harry S. Truman in October 1945. “I hollered to my pals to get out and did a Superman dive at the grenades.”
But “I wasn’t a Superman after I got hit,” he added, recalling the scream he let out “when that thing went off.”
Mr. Lucas was left with more than 250 pieces of shrapnel in his body and had 26 operations in the following months. He was discharged as a private first class.
The youngest member of the military to receive the Medal of Honor in any conflict other than the Civil War, he became a symbol of patriotism in the ensuing decades, meeting presidents and traveling the world to speak with frontline troops and fellow veterans.
Mr. Lucas, born in Plymouth, N.C., on Feb. 14, 1928, was a 13-year-old cadet captain in a military academy when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Big for his age and eager to serve, he forged his mother’s signature on an enlistment waiver that would have allowed him to join the Marines at 17 rather than the usual 18. But in fact he was by then only 14, though the military did not learn of that until censors discovered it through a letter he had written to his 15-year-old girlfriend.
“They had him driving a truck in Hawaii because his age was discovered, and they threatened to send him home,” said D. K. Drum, who wrote Mr. Lucas’s story with him in the 2006 book “Indestructible.”
Mr. Lucas eventually stowed away aboard a Navy ship headed for combat in the Pacific. He turned himself in aboard ship to avoid being listed as a deserter, and volunteered to fight.
The officers aboard “did not know his age,” Ms. Drum said. “He didn’t give it up, and they didn’t ask.”
After the war, Mr. Lucas earned a business degree from High Point University in North Carolina and raised, processed and sold beef in the Washington area. In the 1960s, he rejoined the military, becoming an Army paratrooper to conquer his fear of heights, Ms. Drum said.
On a training jump, both of his parachutes failed, she said, and Mr. Lucas later said his stocky build and a last-second roll as he hit the ground had saved his life.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Lucas is survived by four sons, a daughter, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.