You've probably not heard of Guy Gabaldon. That's a shame, because his story is quite amazing. Private Guy Gabaldon was a U.S. Marine in the Pacific Theater of Operations in World War II. While fighting on the island of Saipan, on July 8, 1944, he single-handedly captured 800 Japanese.
Capturing 800 of the enemy single-handed is a feat in itself, but even more surprising is that it was Japanese that he caught.
Gabaldon was a Mexican-American, who grew up in California. He was adopted by Japanese-American parents at the age of 12, allowing him to pick up colloquial Japanese. When they were thrown into an internment camp he first went to Alaska and then enlisted in the Marines on his 17th birthday.
While on Saipan, he captured seven Japanese in one outing, 50 in another. He would go to a cave or other Japanese hiding place, take out the guards, and then yell to the others to surrender, assuring them that they would be treated well. All told, by the time he was wounded by machine gun fire he had captured about 1,500 Japanese soldiers and civilians.
If you read about the Pacific Island War you will hear about the "fanatical" Japanese. Japan was in the grip of a military dictatorship (with the trappings of democracy) that reached back to the samurai era for inspiration. The Japanese of the mid-20th century were very religious, most believing in some form of after life. Bushido, the way of the warrior followed by the samurai, held that surrendering to an enemy was disgraceful. It was better to die with honour fighting for your lord rather than to surrender to the enemy. This is actually a gross simplification, but it was a spirit embraced by the Japanese military. They taught their men that to surrender was shameful, and you would be brutally murdered by the Americans and British. It was better to fight and die than to give up. This teaching had a corollary. If you were scum and shamed by surrendering, anyone who surrendered — particularly en masse as happened after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the Dutch East Indies, and the British Far East colonies — was equally scum and shameful. This feedback loop resulted in some of the worst atrocities ever perpetuated on captured soldiers, things that make Abu Graib look like a holiday camp.
With all that in mind, the surrender of so many Japanese is astounding. On Tarawa, 146 Japanese surrendered out of a garrison of 5,000. On Peleliu, the Pacific battle I know the most about, 202 Japanese were captured out of a garrison of 10,695. Saipan was infamous for the civilians who threw themselves to their deaths after the battle. Yet, here was one man who convinced so many of them to surrender.
The reason he was able to do this appears to be something pretty simple: communication. He was able to talk to the Japanese in colloquial language, although he wasn't 100% fluent. His command of the language allowed him to convince them that he was on the up-and-up. This suggests that the Japanes weren't quite as fanatical as they've been portrayed. Faced with death with honour, or death with dishonour — the only options when they truly believed that the Americans would simply murder their captives — there was really no option. Gabaldon seems to have convinced them that there was an option. As a result, his exploits give a more detailed, and realistic, picture of the Japanese. They come across as more human than any other accounts I've read.
I won't go into the details. There are several sites that do a much better job of it than I could. The article in the War Times Journal is here:
Another link to the same story can be found here:
Sadly, Guy Louis Gabaldon died on August 31 of this year. I heard about his exploits through a link from RPG.Net. I suspect they heard about him from an obituary. At the time his commanders tried to get him the Medal of Honor, but they only succeeded in gaining him the Navy Cross. For several years now there is an attempt to have him awarded the Medal of Honor.
Trivia: Gabaldon's story was told in Hell to Eternity. He was played by actor Jeffrey Hunter. Hunter starred in a number of movies, including The Longest Day, but is probably best known as Captain Christopher Pike in the first Star Trek pilot. Hunter was born in New Orleans (as Henry Herman McKinnies, Jr.), something I didn't know until today.
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