During two days and nights of violent fighting against – according to his MOH citation – “fanatic opposition,” Lummus led his Marines forward toward the northern edge of the island. On the morning of March 8, the former New York Giant found himself spearheading E Company’s assault against a series of interconnecting enemy foxholes, spidertraps, bunkers, and caves.
At one point, Lummus was sprinting forward with his men when a grenade blast knocked him to the ground. Stunned, but without serious injury, he quickly got back on his feet and continued the attack. He then charged an enemy bunker and killed everyone inside with his submachinegun. A second grenade exploded near him, shattering his shoulder, yet according to his MOH citation, he “staunchly continued his heroic one-man assault and charged the second pillbox, annihilating all the occupants.”
Three times that morning Lummus, alternating between a submachinegun and a carbine, charged and wiped out entrenched enemy positions. And there was no respite in the fighting between the attacks as he was constantly running from one position to the next, encouraging his men, directing supporting tank fire, and killing enemy soldiers.
Then in a final effort to crush all resistance in the battalion’s front, he ordered a platoon assault against an enemy emplacement. As the Marines charged, Lummus stepped on a landmine. The enormous blast that followed could be heard across the entire island.
Numbed and with ears ringing, Lummus’ Marines could still make out the familiar Texas drawl of their platoon commander shouting, “Forward! Keep moving!” They could hear him, but they couldn’t see him. Not until the blast’s smoke and dust cleared. Then they saw the blackened figure of a man bent over and trying to push himself up on one of his elbows.
The Marines initially thought their lieutenant was standing in a hole. Then there was the horror of what they were looking at: Lummus was upright on two bloody stumps: His legs had been blown off, and much of his lower trunk was missing.
Several of the younger Marines, weeping like children, ran to his side. Some of the older Marines briefly considered a mercy shooting. But Lummus kept urging them forward: “Dammit, keep moving!,” he uttered. “You can't stop now!”
According to the official report. “Their tears turned to rage. They swept an incredible 300 yards over impossible ground... There was no question that the dirty, tired men, cursing and crying and fighting, had done it for Jack Lummus.”
Hours later on a stretcher bound for the operating table, an ashen-faced Lummus managed a smile for the Navy surgeon and quipped, "Well, Doc, I guess the New York Giants have lost the services of a damned good end."
Lummus died that afternoon, and was buried at the base of Mount Suribachi not far from where he had landed in the first wave, two-and-a-half weeks earlier. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
The image of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima, which we’ve once again seen republished and rebroadcast over the past week’s 62nd anniversary of the battle (which we’ll continue to see throughout the first half of March), reminds us of our greatness as a nation: As it should. But we must also remember that without the sacrifices of “giants” like Jack Lummus, there would be no flag. No nation.
There have been many such giants in our history. And we must honor those “giants,” always tell their stories, and hope that our children will aspire to be as courageous and unselfish as they. Just as our descendents must honor and tell the stories of the American giants who are now fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other corners of the world in the war on terror.