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.