AN INTERVIEW AND DISCUSSION
|On July 7, 1944, the battle to secure the Japanese occupied
island of Saipan peaked in one of the largest banzai charges of the Pacific
War. The charge lasted over 15 hours and brought the total losses for the
island battle to over 30,000. The next morning, American Marine reconnaissance
patrols edged their dangerous way forward to map out Japanese lines. As one
patrol approached the seacliffs which line the north side of the island, they
were greeted by a rare sight. On the flats at the top of the cliff was a single
American Marine surrounded by hundreds of Japanese troops, many of them still
armed. One might have thought that this Marine was experiencing his last
moments on earth. But as the incredulous scouts looked on, it became apparent
that the lone Marine was actually ordering his hundreds of "prisoners" into
smaller groups, even as more Japanese streamed quietly up from their ocean-side
caves. Eventually, 800 Japanese soldiers and civilians surrendered on this one
morning, an astonishing number considering that the battle for Tarawa a few
months earlier had produced only 146 prisoners from a total garrison of nearly
That lone Marine was Private Guy Gabaldon, and by the time of
his July 8 "bagging" of 800 prisoners he had already become well known on
Saipan for his capture of hundreds of other die-hard enemy troops using a brisk
combination of fluent Japanese and point-blank carbine fire. Indeed, his
performance was so impressive that he was awarded almost total discretion by
his superiors and his solo raids into Japanese lines soon became a hot topic of
His routine previous to July 8 had been simple but
effective; carefully approach a cave, shoot any guards outside, move off to one
side of the cave and yell "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!" At this point, anyone running out with a
weapon would be immediately shot, but anyone coming out slowly would be talked
into returning to the cave and bringing out others.
On his first
sortie Guy captured seven prisoners using this method, only to be told by his
commander that if he deserted his post again he would be put under
court-martial. The next morning Guy returned from another unauthorized trip,
this time with 50 Japanese prisoners. From that moment Guy was granted the
envious privilege of "lone wolf" operator. He could do whatever he wanted,
whenever he wanted. The perfect task for a tough Chicano kid from the East Los
On July 6, Guy left on another of his evening patrols
and entered an area near Saipan's northern cliffs. It seemed fairly deserted at
the time, but before daybreak he realized that hundreds of enemy infantry were
moving onto the flats and gathering for an assault. By this time he was cut off
from any path of retreat and any attempt to show himself would have resulted in
a quick and noisy death. He remained under cover and listened as thousands of
Japanese troops and some civilians drank sake and loudly prepared for the
largest banzai charge of the campaign. This tragic and unsuccessful charge
ended late that evening, with most of the remaining Japanese returning to their
The next morning, Guy crept to the edge of the
cliffs where he quickly captured two guards. It was then that he embarked on
the most risky of his many ventures. After talking to the two men he convinced
one of them to return to the caves below. This was a personal moment of truth
for both of them. If the soldiers below were still too agitated, then everyone
involved would face immediate death and a disgraceful one at that for the two
guards. Shortly afterward a Japanese officer and some of his men walked slowly
up from the caves and sat down in front of Gabaldon. Within an hour hundreds of
Japanese infantry accompanied by civilians began surrendering en-masse; the
gamble paid off.
This climactic morning did not end Guy's
prisoner-taking days. By the time he was machine-gunned in an ambush, he
single-handedly captured over 1,500 soldiers and civilians from the most
fanatically inclined army in the world. Decades later stories of the "Pied
Piper of Saipan" continued to be told and retold within the Marine Corps,
although they were considered by some to be one of many great fish stories of
World War Two.
veterans, however, knew these stories to be true. Guy's actions were witnessed
by dozens of officers and hundreds of line soldiers, many of whom repeatedly
went on record affirming the dozens of lone sorties and hundreds of prisoners.
While the war still raged, his commanders requested that Guy receive the Medal
of Honor, but somehow a silver star arrived, which was only later elevated to a
Navy Cross. And while many contrasted Guy's 1,500 Japanese prisoners to Alvin
York's 132 German prisoners, the United States Marine Corps of the 1940s did
not arrange time for further investigation and so the matter lay dormant.
Only in 1998 did veterans become anxious to resolve this long delayed
case and push for Guy's Medal of Honor. That year and through 2000, the City of
Los Angeles and several district Congressional representatives petitioned the
Navy to investigate this matter to help assure a fair resolution. As of this
writing, no change in status had been granted.
following "discussion" is actually drawn from a series of talks and writings,
the latest of which date from Guy's official recognition ceremony by the County
of Los Angeles on September 19, 1998. Readers should be aware that veterans of
all nations commonly use slang which may seem rather harsh, and that WTJ does
not remove this language from its articles. We prefer that readers be allowed
to hear the undiluted voices of the past and thereby establish their own
|WTJ: Many people are shocked by your recollections
of the fighting. After hearing of what you did, they usually expect someone
with a more gentle attitude. What would you like those people to keep in
Gabaldon: Many have wondered why I was so calloused to the
harshness of battle while only an 18 year-old kid. I believe my childhood in
the slums had much to do with my attitude in battle. I think it best to go back
to when I was a ten-year-old lad living as a waif in the ghettos of Los
Angeles, shining shoes on Skid Row. Fighting in the Pacific tropical jungles
and living in the East Los Angeles ghettos had a lot in common - you had to be
one step ahead of the enemy or adios mother!
people talk about what good soldiers Japanese troops made. Did your first hand
experience support that?
Gabaldon: I never ceased to be amazed
at the stupid carelessness of the Japanese. Time after time, whenever I got the
drop on them, they had left themselves completely exposed. The first time it
happened I suspected a trap, but later I realized that they were just plain
"baka" [stupid]. Good soldiers, hell - they lost every battle against the
Marines whether it was at Guadalcanal, Tarawa, the Marshalls, Iwo Jima, and
later even on their home turf, Okinawa.
It is hard to understand how
and why the Japs would be so careless in their guard duty, but the proof is in
the puddin'. I do not believe that I could have taken so many prisoners if the
Japs had been a little more cautious, and many of them would be alive today
except for their lack of vigilance.
WTJ: Did you ever
run into any Imperial Marines? [Editor's Note: Japan had no marines, only
Gabaldon: My friend Jolly and I were the first
Americans to see the Garapan Jail and Hospital buildings. It had been rumored
that Amelia Earhart had been incarcerated and finally beheaded here, but I
seriously doubt that story.
We were now in "no man's land" and our
troops were still on a stationary line across the Island, with the 2nd Division
on the West Coast and the 4th on the East. Jolly and I approached a well built
concrete building in the South Garapan area. (The Hospital Building still
stands in good condition). We started crawling towards the building. I went
towards the west end and Jolly went towards the east end of the building.
Japanese soldiers came out of the building and stood at the door. It was my
first encounter with "Imperial Marines," as we called Japs with an anchor
insignia on their belts. I couldn't call out to Jolly without giving my
position away, so I yelled at the Japs, 'Te o agete, haiyaku, koroshitakunai
da," (raise your hands and I won't kill you). They immediately turned towards
me and I could see that they were not members of the Visitors Bureau. Very
unfriendly chaps, I'd say. I fired off fifteen rounds, point blank. They were
so close that it wasn't necessary to aim. I emptied the clip right from the
hip. They both fell, one down the steps onto the grass, the other on the
I reloaded my carbine and waited for more Japs. I could
see that the Jap on the grass had gone to his just return, but the other joker
was squirming. He had dropped his rifle, but his saber lay across his chest,
the hilt in his right hand. Just then Jolly came running around the side of the
building with his carbine at the ready. I asked the Jap, "Kochira ni Kaigun
tokubetsu rikusentai ga orimasuka?" (Anymore Japanese Marines in this area?). I
had shot off his left arm and he had a few holes in his gut, but the stupid
sonavabitch swung out with his saber and I was forced to send him to Valhalla
with a round to his temple. What a good way to go, no pain. He had used me to
WTJ: Besides watches and weapons, what
sort of other booty did you normally find in Japanese positions?
Gabaldon: Rock candy, canned crab meat and lemon soda. Man, did the Japs
ever like rock candy and lemon soda! It was in every cave and bunker. And many
cases of Kirin beer. That was real Kirin Beer, bottled in Kirin, Manchuria, not
like the Kirin Beer today, made in Tokyo. Those Manchurian troops brought the
best with them.
WTJ: Well, your biggest day on Saipan
was when you captured what has become known as "the 800." What about an
official account at this point?
Gabaldon: It was in the morning
of 8 July that I took two prisoners on top of the Banzai Cliffs. I talked with
them at length trying to convince them that to continue fighting would amount
to sure death for them. I told them that if they continued fighting, our flame
throwers would roast them alive.
I pointed to the many ships we had
lying off shore waiting to blast them in their caves. "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."
job was going to be in convincing them that we would not torture and kill them
- that they would be well treated and would be returned to Japan after the war.
I understood that their Bushido Code called for death before surrender, and
that to surrender was to be considered a coward. This was going to be a tough
nut to crack.
It was either convincing them that I was a good guy or
I would be a dead Marine within a few minutes. I knew that there were hundreds
of die-hard enemy at the bottom of the cliffs and if they rushed me I would
probably kill two or three before they ate me alive. This was the final
showdown. Can I pull this off? I had beat the odds so far, but now the odds are
almost insurmountable against being able to get these suicidal Nips into
I finally talked one of my two prisoners to return to
the bottom of the cliffs and to try to convince his fellow Gyokusai Banzai
survivors that they would be treated with dignity if they surrendered.
I kept the other one with me, not as a hostage, but because he said that
if he went to the caves with my message and they did not buy it, off with the
head. I couldn't help agreeing with him. The one that descended the cliff
either had lots of guts or he was going to double-cross me and come back with
his troops firing away. Who was the prisoner, me or the Japs? This was the
first time that I was caught in this type of predicament. I had many close
calls in shoot-outs and forays into enemy territory, but this was mixing it
with those bent on killing seven Marines to one Jap.
Here he comes
with twelve more military personnel, each with a rifle. This is it! This time I
can't tell them to drop their weapons, I can't tell them they are surrounded. I
am now a prisoner of the fanatical Manchurian campaign veterans. They don't say
a word. They just stand there in front of me waiting for the next move. They're
not pointing their weapons at me, but on the other hand, they don't have to. If
I go to fire they would have the drop on me. They'd chop me down before I fire
a round. I must keep my cool or my head will roll.
"Dozo o suwari
nasai!" (Please sit down). I must make them feel that I have everything under
control. This is the first time that I think of being too young to demonstrate
authority, but what else can I do? "Tabako hoshi desu ka?" (I offer them
cigarettes). Okay, let's get down to serious business. I'm building up courage
within myself. "Heitai san," (Fellow soldiers!). "I am here to bring you a
message from General Holland 'Mad' Smith, the Shogun in charge of the Marianas
Operation." "General Smith admires your valor and has ordered our troops to
offer a safe haven to all the survivors of your intrepid Gyokusai attack
yesterday. Such a glorious and courageous military action will go down in
history. The General assures you that you will be taken to Hawaii where you
will be kept together in comfortable quarters until the end of the war. The
General's word is honorable. It is his desire that there be no more useless
The Japs didn't know General Smith from General Pancho
Villa. But they respected the word, "Shogun." "Heitai san, Amerika no Kaigun no
Kampo de anata tachi minna korusu koto ga dekimas. "(The American Navy with its
firepower can kill all of you). I point to the hundreds of ships off shore. I
am making headway. They mumble among themselves, but the very fact that they
came to talk with me shows a breakthrough. They could have easily shot me from
behind the rocks on the edge of the cliffs. This scam has to work or adios
The one in charge is a Chuii (First Looey). He reaches over
and accepts a cigarette, a break. They're coming around. I try something else,
the Japanese adage I learned in East L.A., "Warera Nihonjin toshite hazukashii
koto o shitara ikemasen." They smile, probably at my poor pronunciation. They
know that I am not Japanese. I look like a typical Chicano.
asks me if we have a well equipped hospital at our headquarters. Madre mia,
they are going to buy my proposition. I tell him, "Tabemono, nomimono, chiryo o
agemasho. Amerika Oisha takusan orimasu. Anata no heitai ga kegashita ka?" (we
have fine, well equipped doctors - do you have many wounded?) The Chuii gazes
at the ships just a few hundred feet off the cliffs. He has to know that to
resist is sure death for all, me included. I can see that this guy does not
want to die or he would have done himself in last night during the Gyokusai
attack. "So da yo! Horyo ni naru!" (So be it! I become your prisoner!) My
thought was, "Guy, you short-ass bastard, you did it!"
leaves four men with me and takes the rest of his troops over the cliffs. It
looks good, but until I see it I won't believe it. If I pull this off it will
be the first time in World War II that a lone Marine Private captures half a
Japanese regiment by himself. We wait and wait. In the meantime I carry on a
conversation with "my prisoners." We talk of their families, where they are
from, and so on. I tell them about having lived with Japanese Americans in
California and my love for my foster family. I tell them my belief that we, the
common soldiers, obey orders and in reality have nothing to do with starting
wars. They agree. They like my American cigarettes and the chow in my
In less than an hour the Chuii and over fifty men come up
over the cliffs. My heart is in my throat. This is the first time in the
campaign that I do not have the drop on the enemy. They all sit in front of me.
They do not look like defeated men. They are proud and serious - as if they
haven't really made up their minds. The best thing for me to do is to show
self-assurance in my demeanor. The Chuii tells me that there are many hundreds
of people down below, some wounded, some are civilians. He wants medicine for
the wounded. It looks like I'm not out of the woods yet. I show him my sulfa
powder and tell him that there is much more medicine at our Command Post. I
remember that "a wounded Jap is a dangerous Jap." I tell him to bring everyone
up to the flat area and we will begin moving back to Garapan, then to Chalan
Kanoa. He wants water and medicine, right now, for those in dire need. "Be
patient, I give you my word that once you have all your people here I will make
contact with my troops."
They start coming up. The lines up the
trails seem endless. My God, how many are there? I might as well throw my
carbine and sidearm away. If they rush me, sayonara! But they seem to know that
they are surrendering.
They all look for someone in authority.
Perhaps they thought that there would be hundreds of American troops here. I
begin giving orders, separating the civilians from the military and getting the
wounded in one area. I'm all over the place. There are many wounded, some
seriously, but they have a lot of fight left in them. Some of the younger
military want to continue fighting, but the majority would like to give me a
chance to come through with my promises. I need help right now or we will have
to fight this group, ending up with hundreds dead on each side.
situation is getting somewhat shaky. The enemy is getting nervous. They want
food and water and medical care. If it is not forthcoming it is a sure thing
that they will kill me and go back to their caves. One of the Japanese soldiers
calls me, "Heitai-san, Minasai. Asoko ni Amerika heitai ga imasu." (Marine-san,
look at the American soldiers!)
A few Marines on a hill have seen us.
They seem to be bewildered at this scenario. I have one of my "prisoners" wave
a skivie shirt on a stick. They see it and I can see them getting in their
Jeep. Other Marines on foot come running down the hill. I tell them: "Get some
of the seriously wounded, take them to Sick-bay and get me some help
immediately, or we're gonna have these guys rebelling." I was so damn busy
trying to get a semblance of order I can't remember how long it took help to
arrive, but I remember hundreds of Marines arriving on the scene.
WTJ: You also ended up witnessing some of the tragic suicides which
happened at the cliffs. I hate to ask, but were they as shocking as I've
Gabaldon: Many Japs, both military and civilians,
committed suicide. It was sad to see children struggling with their parents
pleading not to be thrown off the cliffs - "Please father, do not kill me. I do
not want to die!" These parents were dangerous, desperate people who wanted
nothing more than to kill the "American Savages" who they thought would roast
and eat their children. "Hurley, look at all those people lined up at the edge
of the cliff! They're jumping off by the numbers. My God, man, we've got to
stop them. Let's go."
One group was about two hundred yards away from
us. I shouted at them as we ran. "Tomare, tomare - seppuku shinaide. Kodomo
korosanaide. Dozo, korosanaide.! " I'm begging them to stop killing their
children. But I can see that as we approach they jump off in greater numbers.
"Hurley, stop. If we get any closer they'll all jump off. I'll try talking to
As we stop we
can see four children thrown off. They were pleading with their parents not to
kill them. It seems that the children had more faith in us than did their
parents. There were about fifty in that group - it seems that there are about
ten left. One who apparently is a leader is yelling at the rest I can't make
out what he's saying but it is obvious that he's telling them not to surrender.
The people look down at the rocks below and see their friends moaning down
there. Just about then one of them grabs an infant and tosses him off. That
seems to have been a signal because they all start jumping off. In a couple of
minutes it's all over. The whole bunch lies down below either dead or
Before leaving Saipan, I went to the Stockade to bid adios to
the many people I knew there. There were actually hundreds who I had personally
saved from sure death. One guy, Shimabukuro, was a special friend, and he had
become my personal barber. "Guy-san, before you leave us, I want you to see
someone here who you saved from jumping over the cliff. Do you remember that
woman you grabbed right after she had thrown her baby to the rocks down below.
The people who were there say that she screamed and fought you, but you held
her down. Well, she lost her mind a few days after she was brought here to the
stockade. It seems that when she realized that she had killed her child
unnecessarily - that the Americans were not going to roast and eat the children
- she became "hidari-maki" (lost her mind). Come I will take you to her." There
she sat, motionless, just staring straight ahead. My God, what a pathetic
sight. I should have let her join her baby that day at the cliffs.
was truly the horror of war.
|Editor's Note: Guy Gabaldon passed away in August, 2006.
As of his passing, his previous award status had not changed since the 1998
campaign for the awarding of a Medal of Honor.