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Highlighting Our Heroes: Guy Gabaldon

Friday, Oct. 2, 2020

By Luke Lorenz
Manager of Government Affairs

Navy League of the United States

This is part of an ongoing series, where we look at the lives and legacies of U.S. sea service men and women. 


As the Navy League celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month, we would like to take a moment to highlight the career and accomplishments of a truly distinguished Hispanic-American Marine veteran of World War 2. Guy Gabaldon would earn the nickname of “Pied Piper of Saipan” for his remarkable ability to convince Japanese soldiers to surrender on the islands of Saipan and Tinian, and he would be immortalized in the Hollywood classic "Hell to Eternity."

Guy grew up in East Los Angeles during the Depression. He became close with a Japanese-American family named Nakano and at age 12 he went to live with them. There, he learned Japanese and apparently learned how to speak it very persuasively. When the war broke out, the Nakano family was sent to an internment camp in Wyoming and Guy joined the Marines.

After completing boot camp at Camp Pendleton, he was assigned to be a scout. His Japanese language skills undoubtedly factored into this decision as he would be able to understand anything he overheard while in proximity to enemy positions. He set sail with the 2nd Marine Regiment of the 2nd Marine Division en route to Saipan, an island of critical strategic value to the anticipated invasion of the Japanese mainland.

The U.S. Marines tore into Japanese defenses on Saipan with ferocity. Despite their losing position, Japanese soldiers were not known for surrendering. It was possible that Gabaldon’s comrades would have to fight them down to the last man as Marines had done on previous island assaults. But Gabaldon decided to try a different approach.

Sneaking up to a cave filled with Japanese soldiers, Gabaldon shot and killed the guards before telling the others that they were surrounded and had no choice but to surrender. Surprisingly, they agreed and Gabaldon returned to camp with 50 Japanese prisoners. On July 8, 1944, Gabaldon convinced Japanese officers to accept surrender and over 800 Japanese soldiers laid down their weapons.

He would work this same magic on the island of Tinian before being wounded by enemy machine gun fire. In 1960 he was awarded the Silver Star for his actions during the war. A few years later his story would be shared with the world on the big screen.