Indestructible: The Unforgettable Story of a Marine Hero at the Battle of Iwo Jima
by Jack H. Lucas and D.K. Drum, Da Capo Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2006, $15.95
In Indestructible, World War II veteran Jack H. Lucas has teamed with author D.K. Drum to write his life story. While fighting at the Battle of Iwo Jima, Lucas became the youngest Medal of Honor recipient in American history. His tale begins with the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Lucas was a cadet at Edwards Military Institute during the surprise attack and immediately set his sights on joining the Marines in an attempt to get some payback.
In 1942, at the age of 14, he forged his enlistment papers and joined the Corps. This one act of lawbreaking to get into the military is only the tip of the iceberg for a deluge of rebellious behavior that followed, including disobeying orders, brawling, drunkenness and womanizing.
During his quest to get himself into combat and kill Japanese, Lucas appeared hell-bent on becoming the most troublesome roughneck in the Corps. Eventually, the Marine Corps found out about his age and restricted his adventures to Hawaii. Unable to get away from the islands legitimately, Lucas stowed away on a Navy transport carrying Marines from Pearl Harbor to the battlegrounds of Iwo Jima. While aboard the ship, he eventually turned himself in to authorities and was subsequently assigned to one of the infantry units set to invade the island.
The most insightful piece of the book describes the thoughts and battle actions of the 17- year-old Lucas as he threw his body over a hand grenade and then reached out to pull a second grenade under his chest. This act of heroism saved the lives of his fellow Marines. Conversely, the blast caused Lucas horrific body damage. Although he survived, he suffered permanent disabilities.
The story describes Lucas’ fame as a war hero after World War II, his commission as an officer in the Army and his despair through two unsuccessful marriages. Unlike some Iwo Jima heroes who shied away from public attention, Lucas completely embraced his postwar celebrity status, enthusiastically riding the opportunities as far as they would take him. Despite a few detours, he finished his high school and then college education.
In 1961 he joined the Army as an officer in an airborne unit. This four-year stint included another near-death experience when both his primary and reserve chutes failed to fully open. Amazingly, Lucas looked death in the face and survived again, suffering no major injuries from the impact.
As opposed to his good fortune in crises, Lucas’ self-professed bad luck with women is a recurring theme in the text. He regretfully left his first wife to marry a second. While running a small business, his marriage came under some financial stress. Removal of his second wife from his banking accounts apparently motivated her plot to murder him. Although the sordid details of how his marriage had gone so far awry are somewhat ambiguous, the tale of the undercover police sting to catch the would-be-assassins is an exciting read.
From beginning to end, Indestructible reads more like a series of entertaining sea stories than a single narrative, jumping back and forth through time to significant events in Lucas’ life. This technique works well and keeps the reader engrossed in the dramatic and humorous events shaping the protagonist.
Lucas provides commendable honesty about his motivation to kill Japanese and general intent to cause mayhem. Many antimilitary intellectuals may focus on these aspects of the book in an effort to condemn the institutional culture sustaining such destructive behavior. Of more import, however, Indestructible provides an excellent case study on the warrior culture of the Marine Corps prior to the unforgiving politically correct environment rooting itself in the 1990s. As such, I recommend Indestructible as an educational text for all military ranks as well as young men and women interested in future service.
Originally published in the March 2007 issue of World War II Magazine. To subscribe, click here.