Medal of Honor recipient, Lucas, dies

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 6, 2008

Staff and wire

JACKSON, Miss. &8212; Jack Lucas survived a grenade attack at Iwo Jima that left him with more than 250 pieces of shrapnel in his body, including six pieces in his brain and two in his heart.

Sixty-three years later, it was cancer that claimed the life of the man who became the Marine Corps&8217; youngest Medal of Honor winner and a symbol of patriotism to U.S. military members around the globe.

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Lucas, who at 14 lied his way into military service during World War II, died Thursday in a Hattiesburg, Miss., hospital. He was 80.

In April, Lucas was scheduled to stay with Byrd Looper in Selma before speaking at Marion Military Institute. But he became ill.

Looper remembered his friend from Plymouth, N.C.

Lucas had been battled cancer and died shortly after midnight Thursday after he requested doctors remove a dialysis machine, Ruby Lucas told The Associated Press.

He was diagnosed with a form of leukemia in April that &8220;tore apart his body,&8221; she said. He spent his last days in the hospital with family and friends standing vigil and the military community waiting helplessly while pulling for his recovery.

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.

Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Will Price was shaken by the news of Lucas&8217; death. Price remembered the response to a rousing speech Lucas gave at Marine Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Gen. Robert Magnus, Marine Corps assistant commandant, called Lucas &8220;a great warrior&8221; who was celebrated &8220;for a rare selfless act of valor.&8221;

Jacklyn &8220;Jack&8221; Lucas was just six days past his 17th birthday in February 1945 when his heroism at Iwo Jima earned him the nation&8217;s highest military honor. He used his body to shield three fellow squad members from two grenades, and was nearly killed when one exploded.

Lucas was left with more than 250 pieces of shrapnel in his body and every major organ, and he 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 AP interview, written as a first-person account under his name, he recalled the months he spent in a hospital.

Visitation is scheduled for Sunday evening and funeral services for Lucas will be held Monday morning on the University of Southern Mississippi campus in Hattiesburg.

Big for his age and eager to serve, a 14-year-old Lucas lied that he was 17 and forged his mother&8217;s signature on a Marines enlistment waiver. Military censors discovered his real age through a letter to his 15-year-old girlfriend.

Lucas eventually stowed away aboard a Navy ship headed for combat in the Pacific Ocean. He turned himself in to avoid being listed as a deserter and volunteered to fight.

Born in Plymouth, N.C., on Feb. 14, 1928, Lucas was a 13-year-old cadet captain

in Edward Military Institute when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

Lucas&8217; father had sent him to the school because he became rambunctious when he turned 11, Looper said.

After the war, Lucas earned a business degree from High Point University in North Carolina and raised, processed and sold beef in the Washington, D.C., area. In the 1960s, he joined the Army and became a paratrooper, Drum said, to conquer his fear of heights. On a training jump, both of his parachutes failed. She said Lucas credited his stocky build and a last-second roll as he hit the ground for saving his life.

Stories like those drew admirers to Lucas from all walks of life. Mississippi Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant was moved to tears Thursday as he recalled 15 years of friendship with Lucas.

In his final hours, the steady stream of visitors was stopped and Ruby Lucas was given a few quiet moments with her husband.