Marine Heroes #6 - Guy Gabaldon
Rank: Private First Class
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
The Marine reconnaissance team was bone-tired as they started their dawn patrol of Saipan. They had just weathered the largest Japanese bonzai charge of World War II. For over 15 hours, endless waves of Japanese soldiers and civilians attacked the US Marines with suicidal courage. It had been the longest night of their young lives, and now their commander sent them on this dangerous mission to map out the new Japanese frontlines.
At first light, they could hardly believe their eyes. At the top of a cliff was a single American Marine surrounded by hundreds of Japanese troops, many of them still armed. They first thought that this Marine was experiencing his last moments alive. But as the wide-eyed scouts looked on, it became apparent that the lone Marine was actually ordering his hundreds of prisoners into smaller groups, even as more Japanese streamed quietly up from their sea-side caves. Eventually, 800 Japanese soldiers and civilians surrendered on this one morning, an astonishing number considering Japanese tradition.
That lone Marine was Private Guy Gabaldon, the "Pied Piper of Saipan" and he was already famous on the island for his amazing ability to persuade Japanese troops to surrender. As a young Mexican-American boy, he had learned how to survive by his wits in the mean streets of East Los Angeles. He was one of seven children, but he moved out on his own at the age of 12. A Japanese family in the neighborhood took him in and educated him in their language and culture. When Gabaldon turned 18, he quickly enlisted with the US Marines as an interpreter. He landed on the shores of Saipan with 8,000 Marines under heavy fire on June 15, 1944, just nine days after D-Day in Europe.
"The first night I was on Saipan, I went out on my own," said Gabaldon, "I always worked on my own, and brought back two prisoners using my backstreet Japanese.”
His superior officers were not impressed at first, they promptly reprimanded Private Gabaldon and threatened him with a court-martial if ever left his post again. But he was undeterred, the next morning he returned with 50 prisoners. As a result, Gabaldon was permitted to act as a "lone wolf" by his commanding officer.
His technique was simple. He would carefully make his way to the mouth of Saipan’s many caves. He would shoot the guards and shout into the cave in Japanese: "You're surrounded and have no choice but to surrender. Come out, and you will not be killed! I assure you will be well-treated. We do not want to kill you!"
And so it was on July 7, 1944 that PFC Guy Gabaldon, after spending a night near Saipan's northern cliffs, heard thousands of Japanese troops and civilians preparing for a large "banzai charge." The attack was unsuccessful and the surviving Japanese returned to their positions. The next day, Gabaldon captured two guards and convinced one of them to return to the cave with an offering of surrender. Shortly after, a Japanese officer showed up and after speaking to Gabaldon accepted the conditions of surrender. Over eight hundred soldiers and civilians surrendered to Gabaldon and were turned over to the United States military authorities.
Private Gabaldon single-handedly captured over 1,500 enemy personnel before being ambushed and wounded by machine gun fire. He was recommended for the Medal of Honor by his commanding
officer, Capt. John Schwabe, but received a Silver Star that was later upgraded to the second highest military decoration: a Navy Cross Medal. His exploits were portrayed in the 1960 Hollywood film Hell to Eternity. He was also honored by the Los Angeles City Council, several civic and Latino organizations, and by veterans everywhere for his courageous contribution to the Pacific war effort
[Photo: Guy Gabaldon (seated) in 1959 on the movie set of Hell to Eternity]