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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 5,000.

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 discussion.

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 Angeles barrios.

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 cliff-side positions.

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.

Saipan 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.
Talking with Guy

The 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 conclusions.

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 mind?
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!

WTJ: Many 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 naval infantry]
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.

Suddenly two 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 concrete deck.

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 commit suicide.

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."

The big 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 surrendering.

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 bloodshed."

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 mother.

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.

The Chuii 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!"

The Chuii 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 K-rations.

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.

The 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 heard?
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 them again."

 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 dying.

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.
This 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.
  Copyright © 1996-1999 by The War Times Journal®. All rights reserved. Copyright © 1998 by The War Times Journal and Copyright © 1990 by Guy Gabaldon. All rights reserved. Photos courtesy of the United States Signal Corps, the United States Marine Corps and Guy Gabaldon. Proceeds from the sale of Guy's book about Saipan go to the non-profit youth camp on Saipan. Guy Gabaldon meetings with WTJ were courtesy of Peter Limon.