JACKSON, Miss. — Jack Lucas, who at 14 lied his way into military service during World War II and became the youngest Marine to receive the Medal of Honor, died Thursday (June 5, 2008) in a Hattiesburg, Miss., hospital. He was 80.
Mr. Lucas had been battling cancer and died shortly after midnight after he asked doctors to remove a dialysis machine, his wife, Ruby said.
Jacklyn "Jack" Lucas was just six days past his 17th birthday in February 1945 when his heroism at Iwo Jima earned him the nation's highest military honor. He used his body to shield three fellow squad members from two grenades, and was nearly killed when one exploded.
"A couple of grenades rolled into the trench," Mr. Lucas said in an Associated Press interview shortly before he received the medal from President Truman in October 1945. "I hollered to my pals to get out and did a Superman dive at the grenades. I wasn't a Superman after I got hit. I let out one hell of a scream when that thing went off."
Mr. Lucas was left with more than 250 pieces of shrapnel in his body and every major organ, including six pieces in his brain and two in his heart, and endured 26 surgeries in the following months. He often showed the curious his arms, which were speckled with grenade fragments that could be seen just under the surface of his skin.
He was the youngest serviceman to receive the Medal of Honor in any conflict other than the Civil War.
In the interview, he recalled the months he spent in a hospital.
"Soon as I rest up, I imagine I'll run for president," the story concluded.
Mr. Lucas became a symbol of patriotism in the decades after the war, meeting presidents and traveling the world to speak with frontline soldiers and fellow veterans.
Born in Plymouth, N.C., on Feb. 14, 1928, Mr. Lucas was a 13-year-old cadet captain in a military academy when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Big for his age and eager to serve, Mr. Lucas forged his mother's signature on an enlistment waiver and joined the Marines at 14. Military censors discovered his age through a letter to his 15-year-old girlfriend.
"They had him driving a truck in Hawaii because his age was discovered and they threatened to send him home," said D.K. Drum, who wrote Mr. Lucas' story in the 2006 book Indestructible. "He said if they sent him home, he would just join the Army and give the Army the benefit of his good Marine training."
Mr. Lucas eventually stowed away aboard a Navy ship headed for combat in the Pacific. He turned himself in to avoid being listed as a deserter and volunteered to fight.
In his final hours, the steady stream of visitors was stopped and Ruby Lucas was given a few quiet moments with her husband.
"I said, 'Jack, you know you're dying,' " Ruby Lucas said. "He just raised his head off the pillow. He said, 'I ain't dead yet.' Just as plain as day. I said, 'That's Jack Lucas. He wants to get the last word in.' "