12 May, 1945
Sugar Loaf Hill, Okinawa

Japanese defenders, nearly an entire regiment, have fortified their crucial position on a small hill. The hill looked unassuming, but it was honeycombed with concrete reverse slope positions holding machine gun and artillery emplacements, and connected by tunnels. The positions would have to be eliminated one by one. A job for the 6th Marine Division.

Squad leader Corporal James Day’s remarkable feats of courage began to unfold on May 15, as he and his squad defended their positions against relentless enemy assaults. Witnessing a fellow Marine’s assault, Day’s squad unleashed gunfire upon columns of Japanese infantry, thwarting their efforts to attack advanced Marine guards. Despite their valiant defense, a fierce Japanese counterattack forced the Marines off the hill.

Recognizing the need for an automatic weapon, Corporal Day fearlessly exposed himself to grab a discarded 1919A1 machine gun. A Japanese mortar round struck, killing one Marine and destroying the weapon, leaving only Day and PFC Dale Bertoli with rifles on Sugar Loaf.

Day’s steadfastness continued through the harrowing night of May 15-16. The Japanese, aware of their presence, launched relentless attacks, met with grenades and gunfire. For hours on end, Day and Bertoli held their ground, fending off infiltrators with exceptional bravery.

Over the ensuing 24 hours, the two Marines maintained their vigilant watch, thwarting Japanese patrols and reinforcements. Despite overwhelming odds, they stood strong, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. Eventually, a message reached them, and they reluctantly abandoned their post, leaving behind a haunting battlefield strewn with over 100 fallen Japanese soldiers.

Days of fierce struggle culminated when Dog Company of the 2nd Battalion 29th Marines, supported by tanks, finally seized Sugar Loaf Hill. After paying a heavy price in lives, the Marines reclaimed the ground, breaking the Japanese defensive line.

Major General James L. Day’s legacy continued beyond the war. In 1998, he was bestowed with the Medal of Honor by President Bill Clinton, recognizing his leadership and valor. Having served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, Day’s decorated career included three Silver Stars, two Purple Hearts, and more. His enduring spirit of courage and sacrifice lives on, inspiring generations to stand resolute in the face of adversity.