Essential Thoughts for Mission Essential Professionals

A Boy Named Jacklyn

When Uncommon Valor Was a Common Virtue

When Uncommon Valor Was a Common Virtue

Jacklyn Harris was born in North Carolina on February 14, 1928. Jack, as he was known, was a rambunctious child whose dad, a tobacco farmer, passed away when he was 10. At age 11 his mother, wanting to corral him, sent him to a military school. He was there when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Suddenly galvanized with a cold chill running the length of his spine, he heard the unthinkable broadcasts and knew he had to stand up for his country. In his words, the 13 year old became “obsessed” with getting in the war to fight the enemy. He attempted to enlist but not surprisingly the recruiters turned the muscular 5 foot 8 inch seventh grader away.

In August 1942, he forged his mother’s signature and shipped out to Marine basic training. No one knew he was a daring 14 year old on a mission. Upon graduation he was assigned to east coast units, knowing he was far from the fight he was determined to enter. By any means possible, including going AWOL, he found himself in Hawaii where he made an error that could have sent him back to middle school. In a letter to his 15 year old sweetheart, he mentioned his age. The censors alerted his commanding officer, who decided losing a Marine as good as young Jack was senseless but kept him in Hawaii when his unit departed for the southwest Pacific theater.

Knowing men who picked fights were often sent to the front, Jack and his fists looked for, and found, people to fight on his way to the enemy. Ultimately, he realized this was a poor strategy and after many visits to the brig, packed his sea bag and went to Pearl Harbor where he stowed away on a ship preparing to go to war. As luck would have it, his cousin was on board and he and other Marines shared their rations with the 16 year old stowaway. After turning himself in and being allowed to remain with what was now his new unit, the fleet arrived at its destination: Iwo Jima.

Five days after turning 17, he landed in the fourth wave to land on the opening day of what was to become a legendary Marine Corps accomplishment. The following day, Jack and his rifle team were heading to their objective and in one trench discovered several enemy soldiers were in the very next depression in the black sand of the important island. Iwo Jima was an essential element in the plans to wage war all the way to the main island of Japan. The Marines were giving their all to take it and the 20,000 enemy soldiers were giving their last to keep it.

The two groups began battle at close quarters. After Jack fired his rifle twice, it jammed. Looking down at the weapon to clear it, he saw not one, but two grenades on the ground. Screaming “Grenades!”, he unhesitatingly fell on one grenade and pulled the other under him to save his fellow Marines. One exploded and he was thrown over onto his back, uniform shredded, blood stains from over 200 wounds growing larger. Upon defeating the enemy forces, the rifle team moved on because they thought he was dead. It was only when other Marines approached that he was able to catch their attention by moving one hand. As a Navy corpsman attended to him, another attack began. The corpsman dealt with that danger and returned to caring for Jack. A mortar attack delayed the stretcher bearers, but they did make it to him and began the dangerous trip to the beachhead.

It took 7 months for him to be well enough to be processed for discharge. By then, the war had ended and Jack was ready to become a civilian again. He regretted he wasn’t able to fight in combat more than two days but was proud he did do what he had been driven at achieve since December 7, 1941 – face the enemy and avenge Pearl Harbor.

In October 1945, Jack was summoned to Washington to accept the Medal of Honor from the President. The battle of Iwo Jima saw 27 Medals of Honor issued. Jack was among the 13 men who were fortunate to leave the island alive. The other 14 were issued posthumously. His citation described his actions as conspicuously gallant, intrepid and exceptionally courageous. With the unique maturity of a combat veteran and cockiness of a teenager, Jack was one of the few who answered Harry Truman when he said he would rather be a recipient of that medal than be President. Jack quickly responded “Sir, I’ll swap with you!”.

The youngest Marine ever to receive the Medal of Honor and the youngest recipient since the Civil War, Jack returned to school, became a high school graduate, obtained a college degree and was a successful businessman. In 1961 at age 33, he returned to the armed forces, choosing Army airborne because he wanted to jump out of planes to conquer a fear of heights. During a training jump, his main parachute malfunctioned and when he pulled the cord to deploy his reserve, it also failed. Remarkably, Jack survived the fall and became known as “the last to leave the plane and first to hit the ground”.

In June 2008, 80 year old Jacklyn Lucas lost his battle with leukemia. He is remembered fondly by a nation for which he longed to serve and in doing so, became a legend among legends.

As someone responsible for a mission essential operation, are you approaching your responsibilities with a commitment that distinguishes you from others?


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This entry was posted on January 24, 2013 by .
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