Valor Friday

| September 13, 2019

It’s Friday, and Mason has come through for us once again. Today we honor Guy Gabaldon, Corporal USMC, and his incredible saga on the island of Saipan.


Born in 1926 in East Los Angeles, Guy Gabaldon had an unconventional upbringing. Being of Mexican descent and one of seven children, he helped his family make ends meet by shining shoes in Skid Row. Joining a multi-ethnic street gang called the “Moe Gang” he was “adopted” by the Nakano family at age 12. Living with these Japanese-Americans, he attended language classes with the other children in the family daily, learning Japanese and about the culture.

At the start of World War II, the Nakanos (with Gabaldon) were sent to a Japanese internment camp in Wyoming. From there, Gabaldon went to Alaska to work in a cannery. On his 17th birthday in 1943 he joined the US Marine Corps.

Receiving his basic training at Camp Pendleton, he went to San Diego for the Marine Corps Japanese language training. He was then assigned to Headquarters and Service Company (HSC), 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division (2nd MARDIV).

June 15th, 1944 saw Gabaldon with the 2nd MARDIV as part of a 127,000 man strong invasion force headed to Saipan aboard more than 530 ships. The battle was critical. The US had decided against a direct invasion of the Japanese home islands as too costly. Saipan was going to be a key part of finishing off the home islands as it could accommodate the big B-29 SuperFortress heavy bombers.

It’s well known that few Japanese soldiers surrendered during the war. In fact, of the prisoners taken during the war, most of the Japanese soldiers were unconscious due to injuries. In the days before the invasion commenced, the Japanese soldiers were ordered to kill seven Americans for every Japanese life taken or commit suicide.

Arriving on Saipan on July 6th, Gabaldon went out alone on his first night. He claimed he always worked alone. As a Private First Class, he was threatened with court martial for leaving his post, but he had returned with two Japanese prisoners. He’d used his “backstreet” Japanese skills he said.

Also that night, he was skulking around a Japanese encampment and overheard the men planning a large Banzai attack. Returning to his base, he informed his superiors. The Marines then had time to prepare for what became the largest Banzai charge of the war. Being forewarned, the Marines held off 3,000 Japanese for 15 hours. It was a bloody battle on both sides, but a decisive defeat for the Japanese.

The next night he went out again. He came upon an enemy cave. Shooting the two guards he yelled 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!”

He returned to base the following morning with 50 prisoners. Gabaldon claims he then got the nod to operate as a “lone wolf.”

On the next night, the 8th, he again went out. He returned with two more captured guards. He convinced one of the men to return to his lines with an offer of surrender. He told the man “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.“ The Japanese soldier left, and a short time later a Japanese officer arrived, with 12 armed soldiers.

Gabaldon spoke to the officer. While he was talking the officer and his men into surrendering, more and more Japanese came out. Arriving Americans thought that Guy was the captive, being surrounded by hundreds of enemy soldiers and civilians. Gabaldon had one of them tie a white flag and begin waving it. He single-handedly talked more than eight hundred soldiers and civilians into surrendering.

It was after these exploits that he earned the nickname “The Pied Piper of Saipan.” It was also during the Battle of Saipan that Captain (Doctor) Ben Solomon was awarded his Medal of Honor, discussed here. With the Battle of Saipan ending on July 9, the division prepared to deploy to Tinian.

The battle for Tinian began on July 24. The 2nd MARDIV landed on the following day. Gabaldon continued to capture more prisoners there. He was then returned to Saipan to fight guerillas. Guy was severely wounded by enemy machine gun fire during an ambush. He was evacuated and subsequently honorably discharged.

As a PFC, Guy Gabaldon ultimately has been credited with capturing, single handedly, at least 1,500 prisoners. For comparison’s sake, Sgt Alvin York, who received the Medal of Honor in World War I, had captured 132 enemy prisoners by himself.

Gabaldon’s commanding officer Captain John Schwabe (later a Colonel) recommended Guy for the Medal of Honor, noting that he had captured more than 10 times the number of enemy prisoners than York had in the previous war.

Gabaldon was instead awarded the Silver Star. In 1957, Guy’s incredible, unbelievable story went national on television and was verified by several Navy and Marine Corps officers and intelligence specialists. Perhaps due to this added attention, in 1960, the Navy upgraded the Silver Star to the Navy Cross. That same year he was the subject of a movie, “Hell to Eternity”.

That he had such a gift for building rapport with the Japanese came at a personal cost. Recalling his worst experience of the war, he said it was watching the Japanese civilians throw themselves and their children off a cliff to avoid being captured. He was able to stop one woman from jumping herself, but not before she had tossed her small child. Guy later saw her in a hospital in a catatonic state. Doctors said she’d been that way since realizing the Americans didn’t eat children and were treating their prisoners well.

Guy was also promoted in 2000 to the rank of Corporal, more than 50 years after his discharge. Subsequent efforts to get him the Medal of Honor have failed. Guy died in 2006 at the age of 80 from heart disease.

Gabaldon’s step-brother Lane Nakano would go on to serve in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an infantry unit of the US Army made almost exclusively of volunteer Japanese-Americans recruited from the Japanese Internment Camps. In just two years during the war in Europe, the 442nd became the Army’s most decorated unit in history. The regiment earned eight Presidential Unit Citations (five in a single month) and it’s 14,000 men assigned during the course of the war earned 18,000 medals, including 21 Medals of Honor. After the war Nakano became an actor, receiving second billing behind Van Johnson, in 1951’s “Go For Broke”, a movie about the 442nd. He then went into business.

Navy Cross
Service: Marine Corps
Rank: Private First Class
Division: 2d Marine Division
Approved by the Secretary of the Navy on November 23, 1960

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Private First Class Guy L. Gabaldon (MCSN: 517054), United States Marine Corps Reserve, for extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty while serving with Headquarters and Service Company, Second Marines, SECOND Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Saipan and Tinian, Marianas Islands, South Pacific Area, from 15 June to 1 August 1944. Acting as a Japanese Interpreter for the Second Marines, Private First Class Gabaldon displayed extreme courage and initiative in single-handedly capturing enemy civilian and military personnel during the Saipan and Tinian operations. Working alone in front of the lines, he daringly entered enemy caves, pillboxes, buildings, and jungle brush, frequently in the face of hostile fire, and succeeded in not only obtaining vital military information, but in capturing well over one thousand enemy civilians and troops. Through his valiant and distinguished exploits, Private First Class Gabaldon made an important contribution to the successful prosecution of the campaign and, through his efforts, a definite humane treatment of civilian prisoners was assured. His courageous and inspiring devotion to duty throughout reflects the highest credit upon himself and the United States Naval Service.

Hand Salut. Ready, Two!
Thanks again, Mason

Category: Guest Post, Marines, The Warrior Code, Valor

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Doc Savage

Solid. Brass. Clankers.


One of the first war movies I ever saw, and still a favorite. Wonder if that influenced my choice to go to learn foreign languages?

Big brass ones, indeed.



5th/77th FA

BZ Marine! Damn shame he did not get the recognition that he was due. Remember the movies “Hell to Eternity” and “Go For Broke” from my youth.

Thanks Mason. I love these posts.

chooee lee

Sgt Sam Stryker never got the MOH either.