Image: Jack Lucas
Rogelio V. Solis  /  AP
Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, left, confers with World War II Medal of Honor recipient Jack Lucas of Hattiesburg, Miss., after being sworn into office in this January file photo.
updated 6/3/2008 3:20:48 PM ET 2008-06-03T19:20:48

A World War II veteran who received the nation's highest military honor when he was only 17 is in the fight of his life, battling cancer, his biographer said.

Eighty-year-old Jack Lucas, who lied his way into the Marines at age 14, was nearly killed when he used his body to shield his fellow Marines from grenades on Iwo Jima in February 1945. He was just a few days past his 17th birthday at the time.

He received the Medal of Honor from President Truman later that year, becoming the youngest Marine to receive the award.

D.K. Drum, whose book "Indestructible" tells Lucas' story, said Monday that he is in "grave" condition at Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg, where family and friends are staying with him 24 hours a day.

"He is fighting very hard, very hard," Drum said. "It's probably his hardest fight, but he's not giving up." Lucas did not have the energy for an interview Monday, Drum said.

A native of North Carolina, Lucas was already eager to join the Marines at age 13.

"At 14, I told 'em I was 17 and joined up," he said in an Associated Press interview in October 1945. "The Lucases are all tough fighters."

In February 1945, shortly after his 17th birthday, he was with Allied forces that landed on the beach at Iwo Jima. While in a trench with three fellow squad members, he spotted two grenades on the ground, covering them with his body.

He was severely wounded when one grenade went off and survived multiple surgeries and months in the hospital.

Over the decades, the colorful Lucas became a symbol of patriotism and has been sought out by many to tell his story. "Indestructible" was written for a seventh-grade audience to reach as many people as possible.

"If he has a chance to say one thing to people, it's to never say, 'I can't,'" Drum said. "You don't know what you can do until you try."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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