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People Top 5
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- March 23, 1998
- Vol. 49
- No. 11
A Hero to the Corps
WW II Marine James L. Day Finally Gets His Medal
Day took refuge in a shell hole and, armed with his fallen buddies' weapons, single-handedly waged a three-day battle against the Japanese, by turns firing Ml rifles and a 30-cal. machine gun or lobbing grenades. When Day was finally relieved, the ground around his shallow redoubt was littered with the bodies of 158 Japanese soldiers. "I don't know why I was spared," says Day, who suffered shrapnel wounds and phosphorus burns. "I think it was plain luck."
Within a week, Day's battalion commander declared that he was recommending the young Marine for the Medal of Honor. But before the commander could forward the citation documents, he himself was killed. After the war, Day let the matter rest. "There were nine Medal of Honor winners from Okinawa, and all were killed in action," he says. "That made me think that [the medal] had to be for the supreme sacrifice."
But in 1995, after Day had retired as a general, his onetime company commander Owen Stubbens got the case reopened. Miraculously, some of the lost paperwork was found in the personal effects of a former officer on Okinawa. On Jan. 20, more than half a century after the teenage corporal had charged up Sugar Loaf Hill, the 72-year-old Day stood in the Red Room of the White House—his wife, Sally, and their four grown children by his side—to receive his medal from President Clinton. "They said I didn't cry," says Day of the presentation ceremony, "but I think I did."
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