About World War 2: Guy Gabaldon - American Marine, Pied Piper of Saipan

WW2: PFC Guy Gabaldon
WW2: PFC Guy Gabaldon | Source

Unsung Hero

Guy Gabaldon (March 22, 1926 – August 31, 2006), one of the strangely unsung heroes of World War 2, captured many notoriously hard-to-capture Japanese soldiers and civilians during the Battle of Saipan. While Sgt. Alvin York achieved fame in World War 1 for single-handedly capturing 132 German soldiers and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, Marine Private Guy Gabaldon, who is credited with capturing nearly 1,500 Japanese soldiers and civilians by himself, had to settle for a Silver Star.

The Battle of Saipan was one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific War. The island of Saipan was crucial to the US strategy because it would provide an airbase for B-29 Superfortresses, putting the giant bombers within range of Japan, as well as the Philippines. It was garrisoned by more than 31,000 Japanese soldiers. On June 15, 1944 (just over a week after the D-Day landings in Normandy), two Marine divisions stormed the beaches, followed the next day by an Army division. By the time the battle was over on July 9, about 71,000 Americans had landed, losing 3,000 dead and 10,500 wounded. The Japanese were wiped out, suffering 24,000 killed and 5,000 suicides. Civilian deaths, mostly suicides, numbered 22,000. Undoubtedly, the number of enemy dead would have been even more were it not for Pvt. Guy Gabaldon.

WW2: Saipan beachhead. Two Marines keep down low while they crawl to their positions as Japanese fire whines overhead. Their landing craft was hit by a Japanese mortar. In the background are Buffalos which supported the Marines in their landing.
WW2: Saipan beachhead. Two Marines keep down low while they crawl to their positions as Japanese fire whines overhead. Their landing craft was hit by a Japanese mortar. In the background are Buffalos which supported the Marines in their landing. | Source

Background: Guy Gabaldon

Guy was born and raised in the tough East Los Angeles barrios. As a child from a large Latino family, he helped out by shining shoes on Skid Row. He also belonged to a gang. When life with his family became difficult, he moved in with a Japanese family who took him under their wing when he was 12. From them, he learned Japanese and Japanese customs. When war broke out, his adopted family was sent to an internment camp in Arizona. Guy then went to Alaska and worked in a fish cannery until he was 17, at which point he joined the U.S. Marines. He was 18 when his 2nd Marine Division hit Saipan's beaches on June 15.

The Lone Wolf

On his first night on Saipan, he left his post and carefully approached a cave. He shot the two guards and, using his backstreet Japanese, shouted at the cave: “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!” When he returned with two Japanese prisoners, his commander told him if he ever deserted his post again he would be court-martialed.

The next night, Guy went out again, using the same technique: shooting the guards, declaring the inhabitants surrounded and demanding they surrender and preparing to shoot anyone rushing out armed. When some emerged, he talked with them and sent one of them back in to convince the others to surrender. When he returned with 50 prisoners, he was designated as a “lone wolf” and allowed to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted.

Warns of the Largest Banzai Attack of the War

On July 6, 1944, he was out on one of his missions when he overheard many Japanese drinking and preparing for a last-ditch suicidal Banzai charge. The Japanese knew their situation was hopeless. He returned with this information and the Marines had a chance to prepare for the largest Banzai charge of the war. Starting at dawn on July 7, 3,000 Japanese soldiers plus more wounded and unarmed Japanese soldiers attacked the Americans in a battle that lasted 15 hours. The Americans suffered many casualties but it was a total disaster for the Japanese. The few survivors returned to their caves.

World War Two: A Marine coaxes a mother, four children and a dog, from a cave.
World War Two: A Marine coaxes a mother, four children and a dog, from a cave. | Source
WWII: PFC Guy Gabaldon (right) poses with a few of the 1,500 Japanese soldiers and civilians who surrendered to him, during World War II.
WWII: PFC Guy Gabaldon (right) poses with a few of the 1,500 Japanese soldiers and civilians who surrendered to him, during World War II. | Source

The Biggest Single-Handed Catch in American History

Guy went out again on July 8 and took two prisoners at the top of some cliffs. Down below the cliffs, were hundreds of Japanese soldiers and civilians. He talked with his prisoners, trying to convince them they had no chance, pointing at the many U.S. ships waiting to blast their caves. He added “Why die when you have a chance to surrender under honorable conditions? You are taking civilians to their death which is not part of your Bushido military code.“ One of them went down the cliff and soon returned followed by twelve armed soldiers. Guy thought his number was up-- he could hardly convince them they were surrounded-- but, although they held their rifles, they weren't pointed at him. They wanted to talk, or at least listen to what Guy had to say. Realizing the ridiculous position he was in, Guy used all his knowledge of Japanese culture to persuade them to surrender. More and more soldiers and civilians arrived from below, including many wounded. He kept talking until there were more than 800 Japanese around him. The situation was becoming tense as Guy wondered how he could get the wounded to safety.

Then some American Marines climbed a hill and peered down at the scene. At first they thought Guy was the prisoner, but he had one of the Japanese tie a shirt to a stick and wave it. When the Marines realized the Japanese were the prisoners, they approached and soon began helping the wounded get back to the American lines.

WWII: B-29 bombers at Isley Field on Saipan mid 1945.
WWII: B-29 bombers at Isley Field on Saipan mid 1945. | Source

Nominated For the Medal of Honor

After that day, Guy Gabaldon was nicknamed The Pied Piper of Saipan, but he didn't stop there. By the time he was done, he was credited with capturing around 1,500 prisoners and only stopped when he was wounded in a machine gun ambush. His commanding officer nominated him for the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Worst Experience

When asked what was one his worst experiences, Guy said it happened when the civilians were throwing themselves off the cliffs so the Americans couldn't take them prisoner. Parents were throwing their babies and children onto the rocks far below so the Americans wouldn't roast and eat them, as they had been told. Guy managed to stop one woman from jumping to her death. She'd thrown her baby over the edge before he could get there though. He saw her later in the hospital in a catatonic state. The doctor said she'd been that way ever since she realized the Americans didn't eat children, but treated them kindly. Guy said he should have let her jump and join her baby instead of having to live with what she'd done.

Marine veteran Guy Gabaldon wows the crowd with his impromptu comedy and his tales of valor from World War II at a Pentagon ceremony honoring Hispanic World War II veterans Sept. 15, 2004.
Marine veteran Guy Gabaldon wows the crowd with his impromptu comedy and his tales of valor from World War II at a Pentagon ceremony honoring Hispanic World War II veterans Sept. 15, 2004. | Source

Aftermath

Guy Gabaldon never received the Medal of Honor. Instead he was awarded the Silver star, which was later upgraded to the Navy Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor. Without a trace of bitterness, but perhaps the savvy of a street-smart Chicano, he reckoned the Medal of Honor was denied him on racial grounds.

The 1960 movie “Hell to Eternity”, starring Jeffrey Hunter and David Janssen, was based on his exploits. Guy was even an adviser for the movie. He got a kick out of tall, blonde, blue-eyed Jeffrey Hunter playing him, the short Chicano, but he took issue with the movie showing Hunter and Janssen working as a team. “It gave me a sidekick -- actor David Janssen -- but that wasn't true, I always worked alone.

Guy Gabaldon died of heart disease in Florida on August 31, 2006 and was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. He left behind a wife, six sons and three daughters. The fight continues to for the Congressional Medal of Honor.

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Comments 27 comments

Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

Pavlo Badovskyy 4 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

hi David. Your heroes of WW2 are totally unknown to us and, I believe our heroes are unknown in the USA. This is just the case. I never heard of such a person. Amazing story which shows how good knowledge of language, luck and courage saved hundreds if not thousands people.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Hi Pavlo. Multi-lingualism and multi-culturalism are indeed important-- especially in this day and age. Unfortunately, most Americans don't view learning other languages as important. I'm guilty, though I've a smattering of German and I can at least "sound out" Russian cyrillic. When I learned the Russian alphabet, I was amazed how the "gobbledygook" words sometimes sounded familiar. My very first big word I sounded out was Ленинград which looks unfathomable to someone who only knows the Latin alphabet. Sound it out and it's obviously Leningrad. Of course, I don't have to tell YOU that!


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England

Another great WWII story David. This reminded me of Sergeant York who was supposed to have single-handedly captured over 100 Germans in one day during WWI.

I've seen clips of women jumping to their deaths from cliffs so they won't get captured by US soldiers, horrible.

I don't think I've seen Hell to Eternity but I've seen the poster. :)

Voted Up and Interesting.


Alma Cabase profile image

Alma Cabase 4 years ago from Philippines

Hi!

What a very inspiring and informative hub. This proves that even a single man can win a war or at least do something big enough to make such goal possible. We should all have the courage to face any life problem and think about Guy Gabaldon as an inspiration.

Thank you for this hub and God bless!

Regards,

Alma


Larry Fields profile image

Larry Fields 4 years ago from Northern California

Hi David. What an amazing story! If it were a work of fiction, my eyes would have glazed over. Voted up and more.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Hi Steve-- why am I not surprised the Poster Master has seen the poster? Thanks for commenting.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Alma, nice to meet you. I'm glad you liked it and thanks for your comment.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Hi Larry. I agree. If this was fiction, I would have rolled my eyes as hundreds of armed and unarmed soldiers and citizens started crowding around the lone American taking them prisoner. Guy really had to be on his toes-- they didn't just walk up and surrender to him without a lot of discussion back and forth. Thanks for commenting and voting.


xstatic profile image

xstatic 4 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

What a wonderful story about a nearly unsung hero and humantitarian in WW II. I never saw that movie either, somehow. You come up with great stories of a time that fascinates me as well.

Just this morning, there is an obit/article in the local paper about Jonathon West, one of the first black Americans to serve in the US Marines. He was awarded the Medal of Honor belatedly in August of this year. (article did not say what he did to wn it). There may be a Hub for you in his story as well. He died at age 91 in Bend, Oregon on 10/24/2012.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Hi xstatic, thanks for your comment and suggestion. If I can dig up enough information maybe I can come up with a hub on West. I'm not unfamiliar with him though. I appreciate your interest!


xstatic profile image

xstatic 4 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

I found a small article about him that said he worked in education and served on the school board here in Eugene. I now recall that he was a counselor when I was a student at Lane Community College.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Eugene, Oregon seems to have more than its fair share of secret celebrities: Eugene Lazowski (one of the Polish doctors that protected villagers via a typhus ruse) and now Jonathon West. HubPages is a great education.


rcrumple profile image

rcrumple 4 years ago from Kentucky

What a story about not quite an unsung hero, but one deserving much more attention than what's been given. Really an interesting story. Great Job!


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Thanks, rcrumple. I think you're right. Guy Gabaldon deserves a higher place in the American conscience than he has. Maybe if a young Gary Cooper had played him...


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK

Excellent story, thank you - what an incredible man! I hope that he is awarded the Medal of Honour, late though it is.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Hi Judi. Me too. I wonder if it's old racism, bureaucracy, politics, or whatever. Always good to hear from you.


aethelthryth profile image

aethelthryth 4 years ago from American Southwest

I was very interested to read this, after talking last year with a man who as I recall was on not only Saipan but also Tinian when the mass suicides happened. He is of course in his 80's now, but still very unhappy about their inability to prevent more of the suicides.

Personally, I felt honored to be talking to one of the men whose fighting in WWII did save many people. So much more the honor to Guy Gabaldon.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Hi aethelthryth-- thanks for commenting. There are suggestions that the civilians were encouraged to commit suicide so they wouldn't find that the Americans would treat them generously. It would have been a propaganda blow if Japanese citizens admitted the Americans were kind.


carol7777 profile image

carol7777 4 years ago from Arizona

I am often drawn to any articles and information of WWII. We lived in France and saw many of the concentration camps. This was an interesting and so many unsung heroes. Voted up and Shared.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Thank you, carol7777. Yesterday TMC showed "Hell to Eternity" so I watched it, never having seen it before. I must say, I didn't think much of the movie. I think Gabaldon's reality was so much more interesting.


Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

Gypsy Rose Lee 4 years ago from Riga, Latvia

Voted up and interesting. This was a great story and I much admire what Gabaldon did. It's great that he was buried with full honors. Thanks for another great history hub about things I had no idea about previously. These are much enjoyed and looking forward to more. Passing this on.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Always a pleasure hearing from you, Gypsy. Glad you liked it.


old albion profile image

old albion 3 years ago from Lancashire. England.

Hi David. I knew nothing of this 'Hero' the term is used to freely these days but not in his case. To think that this was not a one off incident but an ongoing situation is amazing. I guess he was troubled through his life with regard to the poor woman he saved after she had thrown her baby off the cliff. He deserves that medal, it should be given. Another great article in your usual investigative style.

Voted up and all.

Graham.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Hi, Graham. Thanks for commenting. I wonder how many other unsung "non-white" heroes are lurking in the mists of history.


hosss619 3 years ago

American Mexicans Love this country too.


Ron soto USN 2 years ago

Another great example of what Mexican Americans did in World War 2 the Medal of Honor should be given guy 75 years too late


Edward J. Palumbo profile image

Edward J. Palumbo 2 years ago from Tualatin, OR

I'm saddened to learn that Mr. Gabaldon passed away in 2006. We continue to lose that generation of warriors at an alarming rate, and that is our loss. There are a great many stories to tell. Semper Fi, Mr. Gabaldon.

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