Sneaking into War at 14: Jack Lucas, USMC
When news of the Pearl Harbor attack started to make its way across the United States, everybody reacted differently. Some were stricken with fear and found themselves at a loss as to how to handle the notion that a foreign power could attack at any moment. Others seethed with anger at both the aggressor in the Pacific and the seeming ineptitude of the leaders charged with protecting the nation. Then there were young men like Jack Lucas, who took the opportunity to show his patriotism by sacrificing his youth and enlisting with the United States Marines.
The story of Jacklyn H. (Jack) Lucas is just one example of the underage Americans who took up arms against the Japanese and the other Axis powers in Europe, but his bravery and the trials he lived through show the mindset of even the youngest Americans.
Itching for a Fight
Raised during the 1930s, Jack Lucas grew up facing the prospect of war. The world was still recovering from the first World War, though the United States was beginning to rebound from the Great Depression. Tensions with Japan weren’t hidden from the American public and as each year passed, the relationship between the two nations continued to grow more strained.
On December 7th, 1941, the years of back-and-forth finally came to a head. With no warning, the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the naval base at Pearl Harbor, causing the deaths of over 2,400 Americans. In response, the nation spiraled into a mix of fear, anger, and patriotism. Thirteen-year-old Jack Lucas, an attendee of the Edwards Military Institute in Salemburg, NC, didn’t fear the notion of war with Japan. He ran towards it.
Exactly eight months after President Roosevelt declared war on Japan, the now-14-year-old ran away from home to Norfolk, VA where he enlisted in the Marine Corps with the help of his mother’s forged signature and a notary who helped him lie about his age. After months of training, Lucas’s real age was revealed, but when he threatened to simply join the Army, the Marines opted to assign him to a depot post in Hawaii to keep him safe.
The Youngest Medal of Honor Recipient
Tired of being sheltered from the war, Lucas stowed away on the USS Deuel in 1945 en route to Iwo Jima. That the young Marine survived the Battle of Iwo Jima is a miracle, especially as he made it his personal duty to protect his fellow Marines in spite of the grave danger to his own life. On February 20th, 1945, Lucas threw himself on top of not one, but two grenades, shielding three other Marines from the blast.
Against all odds, Lucas survived, with 250 shrapnel shards in his body. Before the end of the war, he was medically discharged and, on October 5th, 1945, was presented with the Medal of Honor by President Harry S Truman.
Despite his brush with death, Jack Lucas enlisted with the 82nd Airborne Division in 1961, where death tried to claim him once again during his first training jump. Having survived a grenade, though, Lucas wasn’t about to let a 3,500-foot drop kill him when both his main parachute and reserve parachute failed to open.
Fittingly, this incredibly brave—and lucky—former Marine released a memoir titled Indestructible in 2006.