Guy Gabaldon, 80, Hero of Battle of Saipan, Dies
New York Times, September 4, 2006
By Richard Goldstein
Guy Gabaldon, a Marine private in World War II who used extraordinary grit and a smattering of Japanese phrases to capture more than 1,000 Japanese soldiers single-handedly in the battle for Saipan, died Thursday, August 31, 2006, in Old Town, Florida. He was 80.
The cause was heart disease, his son Guy Jr. said.
In mid-June 1944, Private Gabaldon took part in the invasion of Saipan, a part of the Mariana Islands, as a member of the Second Marine Division. Thousands of Japanese soldiers staged suicide charges against American lines over the next several weeks while entire native families leaped to their deaths from cliffs to avoid falling into American hands. But Private Gabaldon, going out on what he called “lone wolf” missions, brought the enemy back alive.
He earned the Navy Cross, the Marines’ highest award for valor after the Medal of Honor. It was presented to him as an upgrade from his wartime Silver Star after his exploits became widely known through the television program “This Is Your Life” and the Hollywood movie “Hell to Eternity” (1960).
“Working alone in front of the lines,” the citation read, “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 1,000 enemy civilians and troops.”
In “Saipan: Suicide Island,” his 1990 memoir, Mr. Gabaldon wrote: “Immediately after landing on Saipan I decided that I would go off into enemy territory to fight the war as I saw fit. I always worked alone, usually at night in the bush. I must have seen too many John Wayne movies, because what I was doing was suicidal.”
Private Gabaldon hardly looked the part of a recruiting-poster marine. He was a shade under 5 feet 4 inches. But he spoke “bits and phrases” of Japanese, as he put it, from his friendship with a Japanese-American family while growing up in Los Angeles, a poor youngster of Hispanic descent. He called upon that in his one-man missions.
“My plan, as impossible as it seemed, was to get near a Japanese emplacement, bunker or cave, and tell them that I had a bunch of marines with me and we were ready to kill them if they did not surrender,” he recalled. “I promised that they would be treated with dignity, and that we would make sure that they were taken back to Japan after the war.
“When I began taking prisoners it became an addiction — I found that I couldn’t stop — I was hooked.”
At first, he captured small groups of enemy troops, but then, on a single day in July 1944, as he recalled it, he persuaded some 800 Japanese soldiers to give up their arms and follow him back to American lines, bringing him the nickname the Pied Piper of Saipan.
He was wounded by machine-gun fire in the final days of the battle, ending his combat service. He later operated seafood businesses in Mexico and on Saipan.
Mr. Gabaldon was an adviser in the filming of “Hell to Eternity,” in which Richard Eyer portrayed him as a youngster and Jeffrey Hunter played him as a marine. He was honored at the Pentagon in 2004 as part of Hispanic Heritage Month, and he was the subject of a recent documentary, “East L.A. Marine,” produced by Steven Jay Rubin.
In addition to his son Guy Jr., he is survived by his wife, Ohana; his sons Ray, Tony, Yoshio, Jeffrey and Russell; his daughters Aiko, Hanako and Manya; his sisters Florinda Gabaldon and Martha Jensen; and many grandchildren. His first marriage, to June Gabaldon, ended in divorce.
When “Hell to Eternity” was about to open, Mr. Gabaldon reflected on his exploits but also on his comrades in arms. “The heroes are still over there,” he told The Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate. “Those who gave their all are the heroes.”
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