The Teen Soldier Who Survived Jumping On Two Grenades
In 1985, Maryland police arrested a homeless guy for growing weed in a cornfield. "I don't even smoke cigarettes," said the man, protesting his innocence. "I tried marijuana once after my wife tried to have me killed, and it made me silly."
That doesn't sound like a very believable defense. But he was telling the truth, and the marijuana plot and the attempted murder were actually both just footnotes in his incredible biography.
The man was Jack Lucas, who'd fought with the Marines in World War II. Most enlistees had to be 18 or older, which was why wartime censors raised their eyebrows a little when they read his letters home and learned he had a 15-year-old girlfriend. Confronted, Jack revealed that he was actually 14.
Yes, Jack was young. In fact, he'd go on to be the youngest ever recipient of the Medal of Honor, outside of the Civil War. When he was in Iwo Jima, Japanese soldiers threw two grenades into his trench. He jumped on one grenade and pulled the other under himself. One exploded, and the men whose life he'd just saved left his body, thinking he was dead, but he survived the blast, and he lived out the rest of his life with hundreds of bits of shrapnel inside him. He joined the army post-war, and as a paratrooper, he saw both his parachutes fail when he jumped out of a plane. He survived that too.
We're rushing a little through that most interesting time of his life only because we've told that part of his story before and can link you to it. After all that, though, Lucas grew rich operating a chain of butcher shops. He married a woman named Erlene, and had a daughter Becky, who married a guy named Jerry. In 1977, the three of them conspired to murder Jack to inherit his money. Fortunately, the hit man they hired was an undercover policeman, and Jack convinced the court to go easy on them.
Later, single again, Jack's house burned down under suspicious circumstances. He pitched a tent in a cornfield where someone was growing marijuana, and he got arrested, but the state dropped the charges. His luck bounced back after this: He lived another 20 years, remarried, and was around to participate in a few different Medal of Honor ceremonies with fellow war heroes.
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Top image: William D. Moss