There were a lot of stories of selflessness, bravery, and heroism, especially during those times of war with the men and women who would not hesitate to offer a helping hand, other times ever their own lives, to those who were in need and without waiting for anything in return, be it a reward or recognition. That was the story of the youngest Medal of Honor recipient of World War II, Jacklyn Harrell Lucas, who did not hesitate to throw himself over a grenade, and then another to save his comrades.
Birth of a Hero
Jacklyn Harold Lucas was born on Valentine’s Day year 1928 in Plymouth, North Carolina. He was 10 when his father died, which prompted his mother to send him to Edwards Military Institute in Salemburg. He stood pretty literally with his older-looking appearance compared to his classmates: taller and athletic physique. Thus, he rose to be a cadet captain and the captain of their football team. In addition, he participated in several other sports like baseball, boxing, basketball, softball, wrestling, horseback riding, hunting, and trap and skeet shooting.
It was common during wars for papers to be forged so that age could be faked, and that was precisely what happened to Lucas after Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941, which marked the official entrance of the United States into the World War II. At that time, Jack Lucas was 13. In August 1942, at 14, Lucas enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve at Norfolk, Virginia. He had forged parental consent with his mother’s name written after bribing a notary. That, plus his 5 feet and 8 inches height, 180 pounds weight, and muscular build, convinced the recruiters that he was indeed 17 years old as he was claiming. He then qualified as a sharpshooter.
His next stop was to the Marine barracks at Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida, and then 21st Replacement Battalion at Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina. After a month, he completed the schooling at Camp Lejeune under the 25th Replacement crewman, where he qualified as a heavy machine gunner. At this point, no one still suspected that they accepted a minor kid as a full-fledged Marine. On November 4, 1943, he left the United States and joined the 6th Base Depot of the V Amphibious Corps at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. After more than two months, he was promoted to private first class.
Perhaps he became too complacent, or maybe it was his because he was young and careless, but Lucas’ secret got out when a military censor went through a letter that he wrote to his girlfriend. Naturally, he was removed from the front line and was to be sent home. After several pleas, the Marine agreed to make him a truck driver. Lucas was more than unhappy with his new role, and he would often brawl with his fellow Marines. He ended up being locked up for five months.
Upon his release on January 10, 1945, Lucas walked out of the camp wearing his khaki uniform and carrying his dungarees and field shoes. He was tagged Unauthorized Absence when he did not return that night. Meanwhile, Lucas found himself onboard the USS Deuel, transporting the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines of the 5th Marine Division to Iwo Jima. He waited until February 8, just before he would have been tagged a deserter, before coming back to the battalion. As a punishment for what he did, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Pollock reduced his rank to private. It was too late to send him back, so they let him join the invasion of Iwo Jima. Five days before that was his 17th birthday.
Lucas would soon prove that allowing him to be a part of the Iwo Jima invasion was the right decision. Along with his three other comrades, Lucas crawled through a ravine when they saw a Japanese gun emplacement. They immediately fell into a nearby trench for cover. They then opened fire on the enemies, who were more than happy to respond with their bullets, as they also tossed a grenade at the American’s position. His citation will tell the rest of what happened,
Quick to act when the lives of the small group were endangered by two grenades which landed directly in front of them, Pfc. Lucas unhesitatingly hurled himself over his comrades upon one grenade and pulled the other under him, absorbing the whole blasting forces of the explosions in his own body in order to shield his companions from the concussion and murderous flying fragments. By his inspiring action and valiant spirit of self-sacrifice, he not only protected his comrades from certain injury or possible death but also enabled them to rout the Japanese patrol and continue the advance.
Fortunately, the second grenade did not explode, but Lucas was severely injured, and the other Marines thought he was dead. He wasn’t.
After finding out that he somehow managed the explosion, he was evacuated to a cargo ship and transferred to the USS Samaritan, a hospital ship. Lucas had to undergo a total of 21 surgeries and live the rest of his life with some 200 metal fragments in his body.
His rank was restored, and he was discharged on medical grounds on September 18, 1945. Less than a month after, he was presented the Medal of Honor by President Truman at the White House, along with 13 others. He lived until 80, with amazing stories to tell about how he did these big things at such a young age.