PFC Guy Louis Gabaldon ( March 22, 1926–August 31, 2006) was a United States Marine who, at age 18, captured (or persuaded to surrender) roughly 1,500 Japanese soldiers and civilians during the Battle of Saipan (1944) in World War II. He did this even though his own family, back in the U.S., had been sent to a Japanese-American internment camp.
For these actions, Gabaldon was nominated for the Medal of Honor but was instead awarded the Silver Star, which was later upgraded to the Navy Cross Medal. His exploits were the basis for the 1960 Hollywood film Hell to Eternity.
The United States considered the possibility of a full scale invasion of the Japanese mainland but decided that such a feat would be costly, with an estimated one million American casualties. The capture of Saipan was considered essential for the establishment of airfields which would accommodate the B-29 Superfortress bombers to be used for the planned invasion. On June 15, 1944, an armada of 535 ships carrying 127,570 U.S. military personnel which included Marines from the 2nd and 4th Divisions began the invasion of Saipan. Japanese soldiers seldom surrendered during World War II and, as the invasion went badly for the Japanese, they were ordered by their superiors on Saipan to kill seven U.S. Marine and Army troops for every man they lost, or commit suicide.
Gabaldon was reprimanded by his superior officers, and threatened with a court-martial for leaving his post. However, the next night he went out and did it again. He carefully approached a cave, shot the guards outside, moved off to one side of the cave, and yelled in Japanese, "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!"
Gabaldon received an Honorable Discharge from the Marine Corps as a result of his combat wounds. The United States Government awarded him a Silver Star Medal and, later, the Navy Cross Medal. Next to the Medal of Honor, this is the Marine Corps' highest military decoration.
After returning to civilian life, he moved to Mexico and ventured into various businesses such as a furniture store, fishing, and the import-export of Mexican goods. When his first marriage to June Gabaldon ended in divorce, he met the woman who became his second wife, Ohana Suzuki, while working in Mexico.
You can view a film clip from Guy Gabaldon's life story "Hell To Eternity" here.
Gabaldon's World War II exploits became public when in 1957, he was the invited guest of This is Your Life, a popular television program aired by NBC in the 1950s. Hosted by Ralph Edwards, the show presented the life stories of entertainment personalities and "ordinary" people who had contributed in some way to society.
The fact that Gabaldon captured at least 1,500 Japanese prisoners was verified on the national program by Marines Corps intelligence officers Colonel Walter Layer, Colonel John Schwabe, Major James High and several enlisted men from military intelligence.
Hollywood producers became interested in Gabaldon's story and in 1960 released the film Hell to Eternity where his actions on Saipan were memorialized. He was portrayed by Jeffrey Hunter as an adult and by Richard Eyer as a boy. Gabaldon himself served as an adviser in the filming of the movie.