California State Military Department
The California State Military Museum
Preserving California's Military Heritage
Major General James L. Day, USMC
Medal of Honor Recipient
By Mark J. Denger
California Center for Military History, State Military Reserve
 
Major General James L. Day, U.S. Marine Corps, became the last Medal of Honor recipient to be intered at Fort Rosecrans. Interestingly enough, awarded the Medal in 1998, General Day had to wait more than a half-century to receive this honor. The paperwork for his medal was lost in the chaos of the battlefield only resurfaced again in 1980 when a retired Marine found faded carbon copies of the recommendation among his World War II memorabilia. It took an 18 more years before the paperwork finally reached the appropriate officials. Major General James L. Day, USMC (Ret.) was awarded the Medal on January 20, 1998.

The following are excerpts from President Clinton's remarks at the Medal of Honor for Major General James L. Day, USMC (Ret.)
"To those who lived through World War II and those who grew up in the years that followed, few memories inspire more awe and horror than the battle for Okinawa. In the greatest conflict the world has ever known, our forces fought no engagement more bitter or more bloody. In 82 days of fighting America suffered more than 12,000 dead in this final epic battle, the most costly one during the entire Pacific War.

At the very heart of this crucible was the fight for a hill called Sugar Loaf, the key to breaking the enemy's line across the south of the island -- some of the grimmest combat our forces had ever seen. The Marines on Sugar Loaf faced a hail of artillery, mortars and grenades. They were raked by constant machine gun fire. Time and again our men would claw their way uphill only to be repulsed by the enemy. Progress was measured by the yard.

On May 14th, 1945, a 19-year-old corporal named Jim Day led several other Marines to a shell crater on the slope of Sugar Loaf. What happened then surpasses our powers of imagination. On the first day in that isolated hole, Corporal Day and those with him fought off an advance by scores of enemy soldiers. That night he helped to repel three more assaults as those with him fell dead or injured. Braving heavy fire, he escorted four wounded comrades, one by one, to safety. But he would not stay in safety. Instead, he returned to his position to continue the fight. As one of his fellow Marines later reported, the Corporal was everywhere. He would run from one spot to another trying to get more fire on the enemy.

When the next day broke, Corporal Day kept on fighting alone, but for one wounded fellow Marine. Through assault after assault and into his second night, he fought on. Burned by white phosphorous and wounded by shrapnel, he continued to fire his weapon and hold his ground. He hauled ammunition from a disabled vehicle back to his shell hole and fought and fought, one assault after another, one day to the next.

The battle on Sugar Loaf decimated two Marine regiments. But when Corporal Jim Day was finally relieved after three days of continuous fighting, virtually alone, he had stood his ground. And the enemy dead around his foxhole numbered more than 100.

His heroism played a crucial part in America's victory at Sugar Loaf. And that success opened the way to the capture of Okinawa and the ultimate triumph of the forces of freedom in the Pacific."
 

 

 
In the years after World War II, General Day oversaw combat troops in Korea and Vietnam. He also held commands in Japan, San Diego, Washington, Okinawa and at Camp Pendleton. After retiring from the Marines, as a civilian, James Day became chancellor of the National University campus in Palm Springs, California. He died of a heart attack at Cathedral City, San Diego County, California, on October 28, 1998.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, among his 31 other military decorations include three Silver Stars, a Bronze Star, six Purple Hearts and two Navy Commendation Medals.
 
President Clinton awarding the Medal of Honor to Major General James L. Day
 

Citation
 
Day, James L.
 
"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as a squad leader serving with the Second Battalion, Twenty-Second Marines, Sixth Marine Division, in sustained combat operations against Japanese forces on Okinawa, Ryukya Islands from 14 to 17 May 1945.

On the first day, Corporal Day rallied his squad and the remnants of another unit and led them to a critical position forward of the front lines of Sugar Loaf Hill. Soon thereafter, they came under an intense mortar and artillery barrage that was quickly followed by a ferocious ground attack by some forty Japanese soldiers. Despite the loss of one-half of his men, Corporal Day remained at the forefront, shouting encouragement, hurling hand grenades, and directing deadly fire, thereby repelling the determined enemy. Reinforced by six men, he led his squad in repelling three fierce night attacks but suffered five additional Marines killed and one wounded, whom he assisted to safety.

Upon hearing nearby calls for corpsman assistance, Corporal Day braved heavy enemy fire to escort four seriously wounded Marines, one at a time, to safety. Corporal Day then manned a light machine gun, assisted by a wounded Marine, and halted another night attack. In the ferocious action, his machine gun was destroyed, and he suffered multiple white phosphorous and fragmentation wounds. He reorganized his defensive position in time to halt a fifth enemy attack with devastating small arms fire. On three separated occasions, Japanese soldiers closed to within a few feet of his foxhole, but were killed by Corporal Day.

During the second day, the enemy conducted numerous unsuccessful swarming attacks against his exposed position. When the attacks momentarily subsided, over 70 enemy dead were counted around his position. On the third day, a wounded and exhausted Corporal Day repulsed the enemy's final attack, killing a dozen enemy soldiers at close range. Having yielded no ground and with more than 100 enemy dead around his position, Corporal Day preserved the lives of his fellow Marines and made a significant contribution to the success of the Okinawa campaign.

By his extraordinary heroism, repeated acts of valor, and quintessential battlefield leadership, Corporal Day inspired the efforts of his outnumbered Marines to defeat a much larger enemy force, reflecting great credit upon himself and upholding the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service."

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