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During World War II, when the enemy would rather take his own life than surrender, Pfc. Guy Louis Gabaldon managed to single handedly capture about 1,500 Japanese prisoners. But he did not get the commendation for which he had originally been nominated, the Medal of Honor.

Born March 22, 1926, and raised in East Los Angeles, Gabaldon enlisted in the Marine Corps as an interpreter after persuading a Marine recruiter that his backstreet Japanese was adequate. He earned his place among the few at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego in 1943 and went on to serve with the 2nd Marine Division. In the midst of World War II, he deployed to the island of Saipan, a strategic island in the Pacific from which the U.S. could launch bombers and other aircraf to launch an attack on mainland Japan.

One night, he left his post and ventured off into the jungle, returning with two prisoners. Although he faced punitive action from his command for leaving his post, he left again the following night and returned with 50 more prisoners; persuading his command to allow him to capture Japanese as a lone operative. From that point on the number of captured kept climbing.

He showed great initiative, and upheld the highest standards of the United States Marine Corps by ensuring his prisoners were met with humane treatment. For this, his commanding officer recommended him for the nation’s most prestigious award. He received a Silver Star in lieu of the Medal of Honor. Gabaldon was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in 1945, due to wounds sustained in an ambush on Saipan.

Gabaldon received fame in 1957 when he was invited on to the show “This is Your Life” on NBC. Three years later, a movie entitled “Hell to Eternity” was filmed, highlighting his achievements. After its release, the Secretary of the Navy upgraded Gabaldon’s Silver Star to the Navy Cross, a decoration second only to the Medal of Honor.

Gabaldon self-published a book entitled “Saipan: Suicide Island,” which was later reprinted as “America Betrayed,” telling the story of his life and exploits in the war. In September 2004, he was honored at the Pentagon in a ceremony highlighting the service of Latin Americans in World War II.
Gabaldon died of heart disease in August 2006, at his home in Old Town, Fla., and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. Many organizations have requested that Gabaldon receive his original recommendation for his achievements on Saipan, the Medal of Honor and a film documentary entitled “East L.A. Marine” directed by Steven Rubin has kept those efforts alive.

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9 Responses

  1. Masseybo says:

    I was very honored to have met Gabaldon back in the nineties at one of our 3rd ANGLICO Reunions. Someone in our Unit knew him and we invited him as our Guest of Honor. Gabaldon spoke with us, telling of his childhood and wanting to serve his Country. I believe he said he had a hearing problem and could not get into the Army or Navy because of this. The Marines did take him because he spoke Japanese. He told us of his Marine Corps experiences and his exploits in Saipan. He was very humble when doing so.He even joked about Actor Jeffery Hunter portraying him in the movie, “Hell to Eternity”. He said Hunter was tall, good looking with blue eyes and he was short and not so good looking. We all got a good laugh.Semper Fidelis, Gabaldon. 

  2. Ben says:

    Ray, I’ve been very aware of your father since my birth. My father was in the 2nd Marine Div since 27 February, 1944 – “C” Co., 1stBn, 8th Mar and was on the initial assault on Saipan June 15, 1944. He was wounded 2 July 1944 and was never able to return to combat after that. He died 6 years later. He spoke of your father just once that I am aware of and while I don’t remember “The Pied Piper Of Saipan”, I do remember “Gabby”. When the movie “Hell to Eternity” came out I enjoyed it. Stay proud of him. Ben

  3. Ray Gabaldon says:

    Just letting you know, my dad was not bitter about not getting the MOH. He was a proud Marine and proud to serve his country. 4 of us boys ended up serving in the military. I remember him always saying he was not a hero. The only heroes are the ones that didn’t make it back. I’m proud to be his son.

    Ray Gabaldon

  4. Bernie Laguna says:

    He indeed deserves the MOH. My father also was at Saipan, receiving 3 Purple Hearts during the campaign, the last one being a Japanese granade that blinded him for some time. I also am a Marine: served in Vietnam 1968-1969: 3rd Recon BN., 4th Combined Action Group both as squad leader.
    We Marines don’t always get the proper recognition we deserve, but we will always know what we did for our country and are proud of our service.
    Sempre Fi Marines

  5. ADCS Bill Thompson USN (ret) says:

    I visited Saipan in 1980 while stationed on Guam and visited the Japanese last command post and the gun positions throughout the jungle etc.
    I cannot even imagine having a fraction of the courage to do what he did,knowing that Japanese soldiers were everywhere,with the Tangantangan foliage impenetrable.
    The jungle itself is intimidating itself without the military aspect !
    He was a true Marine..
    Semper Fi !

  6. Ernest Jacques says:

    They need to take their NAVY cross and givehis family the Medal Of Honor in his honor

  7. Marc Lovejoy says:

    I have not read his book yet, but if Mr. Gabaldon went on nightly raids and captured 1500 pows, then after you punish him for leaving his post, they should give him the MOH

  8. Walter Gommel says:

    Sad part of our American history where the race card was much a major issue preventing non-whites the credit they deserve for their great heroism and valor. This true story is a prime example and so many other.

  9. nick lofto says:

    this guy was a great man we need more of them to get this war over with
    nick Lofto