Days into the Battle of Iwo Jima, the commanding peak of Mount Suribachi was captured on February 23, 1945. In what would become of the most iconic images from World War II, five U.S. Marines, Harlon Block, Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, Franklin Sousley, Michael Strank, and U.S. Navy Corpsman John Bradley, raised this flag, replacing a smaller flag.
Beginning seventy years ago on February 19, 1945, the Battle of Iwo Jima lasted for over a month, as U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy forces invaded the volcanic island to dislodge its Japanese defenders.
Display of small Marine Corps and Navy emblems represent all those Marine and Navy personnel who lost their lives during the battle of Iwo Jima at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia.
In 1942 Jacklyn H. Lucas enlisted in the Marine Corps, not an unusual thing to do during World War II, but certainly unusual at the age of 14. A boy who looked much older than his years, Lucas claimed he was 17, forged his mother’s signature, and was inducted into the Corps no questions asked. Jack Lucas underwent Marine Corps training at Parris Island and qualified as a sharpshooter and heavy machine gunner. However after training, Lucas was sent from one menial assignment to the next, first in the lower 48, then at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
By 1945 Lucas was becoming bored with peaceful service, and on January 10th he went AWOL and stowed away on a ship bound for Iwo Jima. Despite going AWOL, Lucas was given a combat assignment and attached to the 5th Marine Division.
Upon hitting the beaches Lucas and his fellow Marines were sprayed with murderous Japanese gunfire. Perhaps the only Marine to invade Iwo Jima unarmed, Lucas immediately picked up a rifle and returned fire. During the battle, it was his squad’s duty to clear out a machine gun nest near a deep ravine. It was then that a grenade landed in the middle of his squad. Without thinking, Lucas leaped upon the grenade, determined to use his body as shield to protect his comrades. Then another grenade landed nearby. Lucas grabbed that grenade as well, and stuffed it under his torso. When the two grenades exploded his body was thrown into the air. Amazingly, Lucas was still alive, though seriously wounded. Covered from head to toe with shrapnel wounds, Lucas was evacuated to a hospital ship. Over the next seven months of recovery, Lucas would undergo 21 surgeries to remove 250 pieces of shrapnel from his body. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions (the youngest Marine to receive the award), as well as the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
After the war, Jack Lucas returned home, resumed his education as a ninth grader, graduated high school, and graduated college with a business degree. He married three times. His marriage with his second wife didn’t go so well, as she hired a hitman to kill him. Fortunately he was able to fend off the attack.
In 1961, he rejoined the military, this time joining the US Army and becoming a paratrooper so that he could “conquer his fear of heights”. During a training jump, his two parachutes failed to open, and he fell 3,500 feet before slamming into the ground. Miraculously, despite screaming to the earth at terminal velocity, Lucas walked away from the accident unscathed. From 1961 to 1965, Lucas served as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne. When he finally retired he had risen to the rank of captain.
Jack Lucas died of Leukemia in 2008 at the age of 80. His Medal of Honor and citation is currently sealed within the hull of the USS Iwo Jima.