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About Jack Lucas

Jack H. Lucas, Medal of Honor Recipient

Jacklyn “Jack” Harold Lucas (February 14, 1928 – June 5, 2008) was awarded the Medal of Honor in World War II at age 17 as a private first class in the Marine Corps during the Battle of Iwo Jima.

He is the youngest Marine and the youngest serviceman in World War II to be awarded the United States’ highest military decoration for valor.

During a close firefight with 11 Japanese soldiers, Lucas saved the lives of three Marines when two enemy grenades landed in the trench they occupied. Lucas unhesitatingly placed himself on one grenade, and without flinching, pulled the second grenade under his body.

After World War II, he enlisted in the United States Army and reached the rank of captain.

Lucas was born in Plymouth, North Carolina. After his father, a tobacco farmer, died when Lucas was ten, his mother sent him to nearby Edwards Military Institute in Salemburg.

He rose to be a cadet captain, and was the captain of the football team. He was an all-around sportsman, also taking part in baseball, softball, basketball, boxing, wrestling, horseback riding, trap and skeet shooting, and hunting.

On August 8, 1942, at the age of 14, Lucas enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve at Norfolk, Virginia, giving his age as 17 and forging his mother’s name on the parental consent form.

He was qualified as a heavy machine gun crewman in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina He then joined the 6th Base Depot of the V Amphibious Corps at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and was promoted to private first class.

Determined to become part of the fight, On January 10, 1945, Lucas walked out of camp to join a combat organization. He was declared unauthorized absence (UA) when he failed to return that night.

He stowed away on board the USS Deuel, which was transporting the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines of the 5th Marine Division to Iwo Jima. On February 8, the day before he would have been placed on the Marine Corps “deserter list”, he turned himself in to Marine Captain Robert Dunlap, commanding officer of C Company. He was assigned to Dunlap’s rifle company as a rifleman. His punishment for going UA was reduction in rank to private.

On February 14, Lucas celebrated his 17th birthday while at sea five days before the invasion of Iwo Jima began and, on February 19, Lucas participated in the 5th Division’s landing on Iwo Jima with C Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines.

On February 20, Lucas and three Marines were creeping through a twisting ravine toward an enemy airstrip when they spotted an enemy pillbox and got into a trench for cover.

They then spotted 11 Japanese soldiers in a parallel trench and opened fire on them. The Japanese returned fire and threw two grenades inside the Marines’ trench.

Lucas spotted the grenades on the ground in front of his comrades, yelled “grenades” and dove for them, jamming one of them into the volcanic ash and soft sand with his rifle and covering it with his body. He reached out and pulled the other grenade beneath him.

One grenade exploded, tossing Lucas onto his back. Severely wounded, he was still conscious and barely alive after the blast, holding in his left hand the other grenade, which did not explode.

His three comrades were unharmed and dispatched the Japanese soldiers. His fellow Marines believed he was dead and left him where he lay.

Lucas was found by Marines from another unit passing by who called for Navy corpsmen to tend to his wounds and protected him. He eventually underwent 21 surgeries. For the rest of his life, there remained about 200 pieces of metal, some the size of 22 caliber bullets, in his body – which set off airport metal detectors.

The mark of attempted desertion was removed from his record, and he was discharged from the Marine Corps Reserve because of disability resulting from his wounds. He was later reappointed his rank of private first class.

On October 5, 1945, Lucas, three sailors, and ten other Marines, including Robert Dunlap, his former company commanding officer on Iwo Jima, were presented the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House. Those in attendance at the ceremony included Lucas’s mother and brother, Admiral Chester Nimitz, and Secretary of Defense James Forrestal.

Lucas earned a business degree from High Point University and was initiated into the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity (Delta Omega Chapter).

He joined the United States Army in 1961 and served in the 82nd Airborne Division as a paratrooper to conquer his fear of heights. He survived a training jump in which neither of his two parachutes opened. He volunteered for Vietnam, but was not allowed to go there and ended his time as a captain in 1965 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, training troops for the Vietnam War.

When the keel of the USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7) was laid, Lucas placed his Medal of Honor citation in the ship’s hull, where it remains sealed.

The outgoing, outspoken Marine easily made friends wherever he went. But it was a stranger who ended up convincing Lucas to move to Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Hattiesburg businessman Nick Kolinsky saw a television show about the Battle of Iwo Jima and learned about Lucas’ heroism.

He invited Lucas to Hattiesburg, and Lucas bought a house of his own in the Hub City, calling it home for the remainder of his life. He is buried in Highland Cemetery.

Ruby Lucas, who is from Petal, met her husband in Hattiesburg. She traveled with him when he spoke with students and other groups.

“He was a great speaker. He could make you laugh one minute and cry the next,” she said.

Lucas died at a hospital in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on June 5, 2008, of leukemia, with family and friends by his side.

Jack Lucas met every president between Truman and George W. Bush and was on a first-name basis with many politicians and military officers throughout the country.

“Jack was an unusual character,” a friend recalled. “He really was kind of a rowdy guy, but when it came to his country and fellow Marines, he followed the Marines’ philosophy, semper fidelis, always faithful.”

Jack Lucas’ book, Indestructible: The Unforgettable Story of a Marine Hero at the Battle of Iwo Jima published in 2006, tells of his wartime efforts and his post-war life.

On September 18, 2016, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced that an Arleigh Burke-class destroyerDDG-125, would be named in honor of Lucas.

After Lucas’ death, a section of U.S. 49 between Wiggins and Hattiesburg was named the Jack Lucas Medal of Honor Memorial Highway after a group of veterans and friends petitioned the Legislature.