A spring 2009 graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi has received an award honoring a hero famed for his death-defying act of bravery in World War II.
Patrick Lofton of Newton, who graduated from the university last week, was recognized by the Department of History’s Center for the Study of War and Society with its inaugural Jack Lucas Award recently.
The award is given to the writer of the best undergraduate paper written on a war and society topic, and comes with a $250 prize. Lofton’s paper is titled "Word War: The Efforts and Perceptions of Success of British Black Propaganda in The Second World War."
Southern Miss assistant professor of history Dr. Heather Stur, a fellow of the Center for the Study of War and Society, presented the award to Lofton along with Lucas’ widow Ruby.
“We’re so thankful to Mrs. Lucas for establishing this award to both recognize the excellent work our undergraduate students are doing and to honor her late husband,” Stur said.
Lucas, a Hattiesburg resident who was the youngest marine to ever earn the Medal of Honor, died last year at age 80. He served on the advisory board for the Center, which examines the impact of war and its relationship to society.
Determined to serve during World War II, Lucas concealed his true age when he enlisted because he was too young. At the Battle of Iwo Jima, he threw himself on two grenades to protect fellow marines during fierce combat with Japanese soldiers, and suffered grave injuries when one of the grenades exploded.
He recovered after several surgeries, and at the end of the war was presented the Medal of Honor for his heroism by President Harry S. Truman.
Stur said the awards committee was impressed with the depth of research conducted by Lofton in producing the paper which included his use of archival material at the National Archives in London while in history professor Dr. Andrew Wiest’s World War II class, offered through the university’s popular British Studies Program.
“It’s not often you see this kind of work from an undergraduate student,” Stur said. “His topic was well-argued and researched, and the fact that he worked on his paper in a foreign archive, that’s definitely the next level of historical research.
“It shows that students can come to study in Hattiesburg and have access to these kinds of opportunities.”
“I couldn’t have done this without the British Studies program and Dr. Wiest renewing my interest in World War II,” said Lofton, who plans to attend law school in the fall. “It was (British Studies) the best month of my life.”
Richard McCarthy and Craig Howard, supporters of the Center for the Study of War and Society, created an endowment that helps fund the Jack Lucas Award, along with a speaker series and community book club.
“I congratulate Patrick on winning this award and proud that our program in London enabled him to produce work that honors an American hero like Jack Lucas,” said Southern Miss International Education Director Dr. Susan Steen.
Lucas’ story is recounted in the book “Indestructible: The Unforgettable Story of a Marine Hero at the Battle of Iwo Jima” by D.K. Drum. Ruby Lucas presented Lofton with a copy of the book along with the award.
“I just wish Jack could be here to see this,” she said. “He would be so proud.”
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.