“Pied Piper of Saipan” Takes 1500 Prisoners

The battle for the island of Saipan in 1944 was brutal, but the ingenuity and courage of one Marine saved a lot of lives on both sides.

Guy Gabaldon grew up in poverty on the streets of East Los Angeles. Knowing how to live by his wits, he shined shoes at age 10 to help his parents and 6 siblings, and belonged to a street gang where he always took on the biggest kid. One day he got his nose broken in a fight, and went to the hospital to get it fixed. On that same night he got into another fight and got it broken again.

At age 12 Gabaldon met twins Lane and Lyle Nakano, children of Japanese immigrants, and became fascinated by Japanese culture. When the family took Guy in to live with them, he went to their Japanese school and became one of the family. Little did he know that what he learned then would lead him to perform one of the greatest feats of World War II.  

Guy Gabaldon’s dream was to join the Navy, and serve on a submarine where he hoped he would see the most dangerous action.  But his perforated eardrums and height of only 5 feet 3 inches disqualified him from the Navy.

But Gabaldon remembered a Marine Corps ad looking for Japanese speakers. Although his Japanese was limited, he told them he “knew Japanese like a native,” betting that his Japanese was better than any Marine recruiter’s. Because the need for interpreters was so great, the Marines overlooked his size and perforated eardrums and swore 17 year old Guy into the US Marine Corps. at age 17.

Soon Gabaldon found himself engaged in the bloody fighting on Saipan. There he got the idea to use his knowledge to good advantage:

“At night I’d usually go to caves — Saipan is just full of caves — and I’d get to one side of the mouth of the cave and I’d say, ‘You are completely surrounded. I’ve got a bunch of Marines here with me behind the trees. If you don’t surrender, I’ll have to kill you.’ And usually it worked.”

He promised them dignity and to get them back to Japan when the war was over.

The first time he went out, Private Gabaldon managed to get two Japanese prisoners. He was threatened with a court-martial. But he ignored that warning and on his next try, he captured over 50 enemy soldiers. After that, his missions became official:

“I’d [capture] maybe 10 or 15, 20 at a time and one day I got 800.”

There he was, surrounded by more than 800 Japanese, some of them still armed, but they were his prisoners. Guy Gabaldon is credited with single handedly capturing over 1,500 enemy soldiers and civilians.

His citation for the Silver Star states he “daringly entered enemy caves, pillboxes, buildings and jungle brush, frequently in the face of hostile fire.”

He was one tough little Marine – a kid from the streets of East LA and Marine Hero “Pied Piper of Saipan.” Well done private!

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