us marines corps

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Secretary of Defense Mattis Makes Surprise Visit to Afghanistan After Deadly Taliban Rampage on Afghan Military Base

(U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis looks out over Kabul as he arrives via helicopter at Resolute Support headquarters on April 24, 2017, in in Kabul, Afghanistan. Mattis is on a regional tour of the Middle East. )

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The Indestructible Jack Lucas,

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.

“Khe Sanh, South Vietnam, March 1968: US Navy Hospital Corpsman Theodore Rutkowski of Pittsburgh lies on the ground just outside of Khe Sanh’s outer defenses and uses a stethoscope to listen for signs of Viet Cong tunneling beneath the beleaguered base. Covering him is US Marine Julian Kalama of San Lorenzo, Calif.”

Photographed by John Olson for Stars and Stripes

A platoon of US Marines poses with their Springfield M1903 rifles, Parris Island, 1932.

The Marine at the far left end of the top row is my great uncle Frank (short for Francesco).  Born in Italy he emigrated to the United States while an infant with my great grandparents in 1900.  In 1917 he enlisted in the US Army and fought in World War I.  He continued his career in the military as a peacetime soldier until he was honorably discharged in 1928.  In 1932 he enlisted in the US Marine Corps and served on the battleship USS Arkansas. In 1936 he finally retired from the military.  He passed away in the early 1990’s, living to a very old age.