MOUNT PLEASANT - World War II veteran Bill Pierce showed the scar from a bullet wound to his neck.
"Another quarter-inch and I'm not here," he said.
Dick Whitaker told of narrowly escaping a sniper's shot when it hit the shovel he was holding.
Pierce and Whitaker, both octogenarians, were barely out of high school when they joined the Marines.
They fought on the Japanese island of Okinawa in a watershed battle for control of a patch of ground dubbed Sugar Loaf Hill.
Pierce manned a 37 millimeter anti-tank gun. Whitaker was in a rifle company.
Sugar Loaf bristled with enemy machine guns, anti-tank weapons, mortars and howitzers. The Japanese rolled artillery out on tracks, fired and then quickly pulled back into caves.
Hundreds of Marines died and thousands were wounded in the battle for that hill.
Whitaker, Pierce and other survivors tell their story in a documentary about Sugar Loaf Hill that premieres at 10 p.m. today on the American Heroes Channel.
Despite the danger, Pierce always felt he would return home alive. "It was the next guy who was going to get killed," he said.
But it wasn't easy surviving. Dengue fever, malaria and stomach ailments created misery. Whitaker and Pierce expressed gratitude for the Navy Corpsmen who treated them.
After the sun went down, there was restless sleep in the pitch-black darkness of watery fox holes.
"Nights were horrible," Whitaker said.
The emotional stress of battle became too much for some.
"The combat fatigue cases were very high," he said.
Whitaker was in the 11th assault on Sugar Loaf. Bullets rained all around. A lot of men died.
"I don't like to talk about it," he said.
Gallows humor offered some relief from the war.
"I think that's what kept us sane," he said.
Sugar Loaf Hill was only about 50-feet tall and a few hundred yards long. But it had huge importance as an anchor for an elaborate network of enemy tunnels.
For that reason, Sugar Loaf was seen as key to the 82-day Okinawa campaign. In that time, more than 200,000 Americans, Japanese and Okinawans perished.
Death rather than surrender was the Japanese way. That was exemplified in Kamikaze pilot attacks on the U.S. fleet.
"That makes a formidable enemy," Whitaker said.
He rarely discussed the war back home. Now, though, memories of being a Marine fill a shelf at his home.
Pierce has a room in his house that is all about his days in the Marines.
Both men were 6th Division members.
"We've got to think of keeping these stories alive. The worst thing you can do is not tell your story. To hide that inside of you, you could crack up," Pierce said.
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