Think back to when you were 14 years old. What were you doing? Attending school? Playing with the neighborhood kids? Trying to keep up on your chores to earn your weekly allowance so you could afford to see a movie with friends?
For Jacklyn H. Lucas, the reality was vastly different. Because Lucas was already a Marine, serving at that age during World War II.
As a 13-year-old cadet captain at Edwards Military Institute in Salemburg, North Carolina, Lucas regularly saw headlines of the war America had recently joined. He was angered by the attacks on Pearl Harbor, but didn’t want to contribute to the cause by planting a victory garden or collecting scrap metal to be made into weapons. Lucas wanted to fight. He convinced a notary to swear he was 17 years old, and at 14, he was sworn into the Marine Corps.
After serving for several months, military officials discovered Lucas’ actual age and threatened to send him home. Lucas said he would just join the Army and was allowed to stay, being assigned to a relatively safe detail at a supply depot in Hawaii. However, three years later, he stowed away on a ship headed to Iwo Jima because he was afraid he would never see combat. He survived on bread crumbs to avoid detection by the crew, for fear they would send him back to Pearl Harbor.
After landing, Lucas embedded with 40,000 other Marines during the U.S, assault on Iwo Jima. He had no weapon in the initial charge, but was able to retrieve one off a fallen comrade before making landfall. Shortly after, while engaging the Japanese forces, Lucas crept through a treacherous, twisting ravine which ran in close proximity to a fluid and uncertain frontline.
Pfc. Lucas and three other men were suddenly ambushed by a hostile patrol which savagely attacked with rifle fire and grenades. 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 as well, absorbing the whole blasting forces of the explosions in his own body in order to shield his comrades. The day was February 20, 1945, just one day after D-Day. Lucas was only 16.
Assumed to have been killed by his selfless actions, it was hours before troops were able to recover his body. At that time, they discovered that he was not only alive, but conscious. Lucas was immediately transported to a hospital, where he underwent a 21-hour surgery to remove fragments of the grenades from every major organ in his body. More than 200 pieces of metal remained.
Just six months later, Lucas accepted the Medal of Honor, in person, from President Harry S. Truman in a ceremony on the White House lawn.
Lucas left military service. However, in 1961 at age 33, he once again donned a uniform, this time as an Army paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division.
On his first training jump, both of his parachutes failed to open. He fell 3,500 feet through the air. He not only lived, he walked away uninjured.
Two weeks later, he was back in the plane on his second training jump. That one went better. Four years later he finished his tour as a captain in the 82nd Airborne.
His adventures in surviving death now complete, Lucas ran a business outside Washington, D.C., wrote an autobiography aptly titled, “Indestructible,” met every president from Truman to Clinton, and saw his original Medal of Honor citation laid out in the hull of the USS Iwo Jima.
Lucas died in 2008 at age 80 from cancer.
By Alex Snyder