World War 2 History: Guy Gabaldon— American Marine, Pied Piper of Saipan
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.
Battle of Saipan
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.
Location of Saipan
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.
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.
B-29 Bombers at Saipan
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.
Guy Gabaldon Honored
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.
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 this day for the Congressional Medal of Honor.
© 2012 David Hunt