Above: Jack Lucas accepts the Medal of Honor and congratulations from President Truman. “I would rather have this medal than be president of the United States,” Truman said. “Sir, I’ll swap ya!” Lucas replied.
SEVENTY YEARS AGO TODAY, seventeen-year-old Jack Lucas lunged on two Japanese hand grenades that had landed in his Iwo Jima trench — and survived. The Marine acted in order to save the lives of the three other soldiers in the trench. “I remember making the conscious decision to cover the grenades with my body,” Lucas wrote in his 2006 autobiography, Indestructible. “If they detonated, all of us would have been injured and unable to defend ourselves … I could die alone or all four of us could die.”
The Marine lunged on one grenade and pulled the other under his body. “The blast was deafening,” he wrote. “One minute I was prostrate on the ground, and the next, I was floating upward.” Lucas’ body turned 180 degrees in midair and he landed on his back with more than 250 chunks of shrapnel in his body. Amazingly, he was alive — he was even alert enough to see the 28th Marine Regiment raise the American flag on Iwo Jima as he was transported off the Pacific island.
In 36 days of intense fighting on Iwo Jima, 6,821 U.S. soldiers died. Lucas was one of the 19,217 American wounded.
It took 26 surgeries to repair the Marine, who was left with eight pieces of shrapnel in his brain, six in his right lung, and more than 100 in his body.
On October 5, 1945, Lucas and 13 other Marines received the Medal of Honor, the highest U.S. military decoration, from President Harry S Truman. Lucas is the youngest Marine to receive the Medal of Honor.