Meeting these ‘heroes’ among my most-cherished moments

Published 2:59 pm Wednesday, February 19, 2020

There is, in newspaper jargon, a term called Afghanistanism; meaning it’s easier to write an editorial about what’s going on in Afghanistan than to write about what’s going on at home.

Today, I’m going to practice Afghanistanism.

Initially, I hadn’t planned to do that. I was thinking about something in our local happenings to write about when I came across an article saying that Sunday is the 75th anniversary of the battle for Iwo Jima, and it brought back some memories about a trip and my acquaintance with some remarkable and interesting men.

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Unless you’re under the age of 30 (or maybe you are 30 and never learned about it), the invasion of the Japanese island of Iwo Jima was a major battle of World War II; it brought American troops closer to Japan and provided a way station for damaged B-29 bombers returning from raids on Japanese cities.

But an even more interesting was the bravery of the men who fought and died taking that volcanic island.

Admiral Chester Nimitz was quoted as saying, “Among those who served on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue.” It was a very accurate statement; 27 Marines received the Medal of Honor for their unselfish actions on Iwo Jima.

And in 2001, I had the opportunity to meet several of them during a cruise on the amphibious warship Iwo Jima from Pascagoula, where it was built, to Pensacola, Fla., where it was commissioned.

When you’re a reporter assigned to cover an event like that cruise, one of your goals is to get personal accounts from the people who were there. Programs like the cruises I took on the Iwo Jima and the amphibious ship Bon Homme Richard are living and oral history at its finest, and I wanted to write and absorb all I could. And the passengers on the Iwo Jima, that day in 2001 were gracious and willing to talk about their experiences.

One of those was Jack Lucas, who received the Medal of Honor for covering a Japanese hand grenade with his body to save his comrades. At 17, he was the youngest Marine and soldier in World War II to receive his country’s highest honor. His story and those of others filled my notebook.

But what struck me was not the personal accounts of the men, but their refusal to be called heroes. “I’m not a hero,” one Medal of Honor recipient told me. “The real heroes are the ones who never made it back.”

I got to meet Jack Lucas again in Pascagoula, and missed a few more chances later to talk with him. He died in 2008, and I now regret not having spent more time with him.

As I write this, I’m thinking not only of Jack Lucas, but of other veterans I’ve gotten to know in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, and it saddens me to know that they are slowly leaving us. These are men and women who were part of a conflict, or many conflicts, that changed the way we live. They deserve our respect and we need to learn more about the history that affected their lives.

We need to find a way that our generation and future generations don’t forget them.


John Surratt is a staff writer at The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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