Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Veteran Spotlight : Jack Lucas

How do you define "hero"?  Is there just one definition?  I have heard and read many opinions, both from veterans themselves to talking heads on the news channels.  One description (nearly?) all would agree on : A military member who dies fighting to defend freedom and liberty for their fellow citizens is a hero.  Jack Lucas did not fit this definition of "hero".

But, it wasn't for a lack of trying.

Jacklyn Harold Lucas was born in Plymouth, a small town in North Carolina.  He had a very muscular build and loved sports.  The news of Pearl Harbor shook him to his core, even at his young age.  Although only 14 years old in August of 1942, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps by faking his age and forging his mother's consent papers.  How he ultimately made it to Iwo Jima was practically a miracle itself.  After initial training, Lucas hopped a train with other troops from the east coast to California and made it to a base depot of the V Amphibious Corps in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  He was advanced to rank of Private First Class January 1944.

He was still not slated to go out with any front line unit, and after saying to his buddies he wanted to fight, left the camp.  Initially declared Unauthorized Absence (UA), he was later deemed a deserter and a reward was offered to anyone who could find him.  Lucas found his way to the USS Deuel, which was taking members of the 5th Marine Division to combat.

On February 8, 1945, now Private Jack Lucas surrendered on board to the senior troop officer in neat dungarees. On the way to Iwo Jima, with no option to drop him off anywhere else, Lucas was allowed to serve in Headquarters Company, 5th Marine Division.  Turning 17 just a few days prior to his actions on Iwo Jima, Lucas was finally about to get his wish of facing the Japanese enemy.

In later interviews, Mr. Lucas was thankful that he did not go in on the first wave.  By the time he did make it ashore, he realized just how bad combat could be.  The beaches of Iwo Jima were littered with bodies of fellow Marines and as he later recounted, "it was all hell had broke loose with artillery tearing people up."

His second day on the island, Lucas found himself in a trench with other Marines pinned down near an airfield.  Engaged in a firefight, and after shooting two enemy soldiers, his gun jammed.  While looking down to work on his rifle, two enemy grenades landed in the trench.  While yelling "Grenades!", Jack Lucas jumped over one grenade, and shoved it into the volcanic ash.  Reaching out to the other, he pulled it under him.  One grenade went off, and the severity of his injuries made his fellow Marines think he had died and they continued on.

Lucas kept moving his left hand, to hopefully indicate to any who passed that he was still alive.  He was eventually found and brought back and placed on a hospital ship, Samaritan.  After numerous treatments (he eventually tallied 21 surgeries) he was able to carry on with the rest of his life.  On October 5, 1945, Lucas and other Marines and sailors were presented with the Metal of Honor.  Lucas was the youngest to be given that honor since the Civil War.

Not one to sit idly by, Lucas served in the 82nd Airborne Division 1961 through 1965 as a paratrooper.  During training, he also survived both of his parachutes failing on a jump.

Was Jack Lucas a hero?  He (in the video below) does not admit to it.  I, however, would argue that Jack Lucas was not only a legendary Marine and one of the toughest men I have ever heard of, he was the absolute definition of a hero.  And, I'd bet the Marines that were in the trench with him that day would have said the same.
John 15:13
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.