The photograph of U.S. Marines raising the American flag on Mt. Suribachi at the southern tip of Iwo Jima provides a lasting impression of the heroism of these brave men during the bloody battle for this Pacific Island. Thus the subtitle of this memoir, “The Unforgettable Story of a Marine Hero at the Battle of Iwo Jima” defines the book well.
Senator Bob Dole provides the Foreword to the book and identifies with this hero and Medal of Honor recipient, who was fighting the Japanese in the Pacific while Dole fought the Nazis in Italy. Both were severely wounded during their gallant actions for our country. Photographs in the book chronicle the life of this Medal of Honor recipient.
Jack Lucas was only 11 when he lost his father, and the boy became quite rebellious. The subsequent events of Pearl Harbor caused him to join the Marines at age 14, the youngest soldier of the twentieth century. His stepfather helped him to convince a recruiter that he was really 17. Suddenly, this muscular, 5’ 8” and 180-pound North Carolina farmboy found himself on a train going to Parris Island for training.
The story is filled with flashbacks of his life as a child, helping the reader to learn how Jack Lucas became the man he is. Finally, after a transfer to Camp Geiger, a base in North Carolina near Camp Lejeune, he boarded a train for the Pacific coast and headed toward the war in the Pacific.
The USS Typhoon took Lucas and his fellow Marines to Camp Catlin, Oahu, Hawaii. It was here that he almost missed the war completely. He admitted in a letter to a girlfriend back home that he was only 15, unaware that outgoing letters were censored. He was prevented from participating in the battle for the island of Tarawa and was instead assigned to drive a trash truck on the base. His rebellious nature as a young boy turned into a combative nature as a Marine. His short temper and lack of patience with others resulted in fights and trips to the brig.
Lucas was finally able to join the other Marines headed to Iwo Jima between Saipan and Tokyo, a site the U.S. desperately needed for their B-29 bombers and shorter-range fighter escorts. Unfortunately, by the time the Marines landed, the island was an underground network of caves and tunnels which harbored the Japanese forces. Iwo Jima was considered to be Japan’s “front door,” and the entrenched Japanese were willing to fight to the death to defend the island. Thus one of the bloodiest battles of WWII ensued after the Marines’ landing.
As Lucas and his men approached Airfield One on the island, they encountered enemy resistance. When they began firing quickly at the Japanese soldiers, his M1 jammed. He looked down to un-jam his rifle, and saw two grenades with four seconds of fuse at his feet that had been dropped into the trench. He yelled “Grenade!”, knelt down and pushed one grenade into the volcanic ash. He dove on top of it, simultaneously pulling the other grenade under him and pushing it into the ash, too.
The chapter following this event leads with a verse from the Bible which describes Lucas’s unselfish actions: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. –John 13:13. His survival after the detonation of the grenades was miraculous because of his extensive injuries. Subsequent chapters detail his surgeries and recovery.
After his recovery, Lucas reenlisted, this time with the Army. His later years were fraught with great difficulty with two failed marriages and a threat on his life by his second wife. When he completed his military service, he moved to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and took care of his mother until her death. It was there he met a “pleasant and delightful’ woman named Ruby Clark to whom he was still happily married at the time of his death. According to his own admission, she turned his life around. They have traveled extensively and even visited Iwo Jima. He attended the sixtieth anniversary reunion there in March 2005.
The epilogue contains this hero’s reflections on these events as he wonders why God spared his life so many times. He gives credit to his comrades who also served heroically but were not similarly rewarded by their country with a Medal of Honor. The citation reads in part:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty…