The Navy commissioned its newest guided-missile destroyer, the Jack H. Lucas, in Tampa, Florida, on Saturday.
The ship is named after Marine Corps Pfc. Jacklyn “Jack” Harold Lucas, the youngest Marine and service member in World War II to earn the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Iwo Jima in Japan ― days after he turned 17.
The ship is the first Flight III configuration of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, which means it is outfitted with the AN/SPY-6(V)1 air and missile defense radar that the Navy says increases a destroyer’s tracking and detection capabilities.
Erik Raven, under secretary of the Navy, said at the commissioning ceremony, according to a Navy news release, “Commissioning the Jack H. Lucas means we continue to deliver fast, agile, and networked surface combatants to the Navy. The Jack H. Lucas is built to fight. It is a fast, maneuverable, versatile, and lethal ship – capable of tackling any mission it is given.”
“It will keep the Navy and Marine Corps adaptive and ready, and also uphold our commitment to maintaining the free flow of commerce, deterring military aggression, and facilitating quick responses to natural disasters across the globe,” Raven said.
Lucas forged his mother’s signature so he could join the Marines before he was 18, according to a profile by the National World War II Museum. When the Marine Corps realized he was underage a year later, they assigned him to drive a truck in Hawaii, but Lucas proceeded to hide aboard transport ship Duel carrying Marines to Iwo Jima, Japan.
The 26th Marines ushered him into their unit when they discovered him on the vessel, and Lucas joined them to take action against Japanese forces on Feb. 20, 1945.
Lucas’ Medal of Honor citation says a Japanese patrol ambushed him and three others that day in a ravine, attacking them with rifle fire and grenades.
Lucas immediately stepped into action when two grenades landed in front of him and his team, and Lucas “unhesitatingly hurled himself over his comrades upon one grenade and pulled the other under him, absorbing the whole blasting forces of the explosions in his own body in order to shield his companions from the concussion and murderous flying fragments,” the citation says.
“By his inspiring action and valiant spirit of self-sacrifice, he not only protected his comrades from certain injury or possible death but also enabled them to rout the Japanese patrol and continue the advance,” the citation says.
Lucas ultimately received 26 operations to remove shrapnel from his torso, arm and face, the National World War II Museum said. Then-president Harry S. Truman awarded him the Medal of Honor at the White House on Oct. 5, 1945.
Lucas returned to serve in the Army in 1961 as a captain, where he was responsible for training troops headed to Vietnam. Lucas died in 2008 in Mississippi. His widow, Ruby, is one of the destroyer’s sponsors, who will develop lasting relationships with the vessel and its crew as it undergoes significant milestones.
Capt. Brett Oster, the destroyer’s commanding officer, according to a Navy news release, said, “There is something you can never, ever deny about Jack H. Lucas. That man loved this country. That is why we’re here, because we love this country. You can never take that away — his dedication.”
Navy captains will lead the new destroyers like the Lucas as they take on air defense missions for carrier strike groups, rather than guided-missile cruisers, Navy Times previously reported.
The destroyer Jack H. Lucas will be homeported in San Diego.
Other destroyers in production at American shipbuilder HII include the Ted Stevens, Jeremiah Denton, George M. Neal and Sam Nunn.
Navy Times senior reporter Geoff Ziezulewicz contributed to this report.