Here’s How A 17-Year-Old From LA Convinced 1,500 Japanese Soldiers To Surrender

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In the annals of war, the long list of records concerning courageous actions in the face of overwhelming odds are held up as examples to those who come behind.

We are all familiar with these stories of heroism. We honor those who have fought the good fight in defense of the nation. And so we should. But the hero I am writing about today is truly an uncommon hero. He was a United States Marine, by the name of Corporal Guy Gabaldon.

Here is his story.

Gabaldon was born to a poor Mexican family in Los Angeles. At the age of 10 he was out on the streets shining shoes to help his family get by. At age 12 he was placed with a Japanese American family, the Nakanos, where he would learn much about Japanese culture and would learn to speak the Japanese language fluently.

This would prove a priceless benefit to him a few years later.

Source: YouTube/Tomas Salinas
Guy Gabaldon was interviewed about his actions in WWII later in life.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1942, the Nakano family, like all the other Japanese American families at that time, were “relocated.” The Nakanos were moved to the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in the state of Wyoming and Gabaldon ended up in Alaska, working in a cannery.

When he turned 17, he joined the United States Marine Corps wanting to serve in the Pacific. Gabaldon entered, went through boot camp and advanced Infantry training and was assigned to Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division as a scout and observer.

Source: YouTube/Tomas Salinas
Guy Gabaldon joined the Marines at 17.

His first taste of combat would soon follow when he landed on Saipan with his unit to take the island out of Japanese control. It was there that Gabaldon’s unique history and skills would come to play in an extremely unusual way.

On his first night on Saipan, he went out into enemy territory on his own. He ran into two Japanese Army guards. Speaking to them in Japanese, with a clear sense of the culture, he was able to convince them to surrender and return to base with him.

His superiors were not pleased.

Source: YouTube/Tomas Salinas
Japanese prisoners of war.

Instead, they reprimanded him and threatened to put him up for a court-martial. Being of a certain nature, this did not stop Gabaldon. He went out again the second night. This time he came across a cave where several Japanese were hiding. He killed one of the guards and then yelled into the dark depths of the cave in Japanese.

Imagine the audacity of such a move.

Unbelievably, he was able to convince 50 Japanese soldiers to come out and surrender to him. He then led them, single handedly, back to camp.

This time, his superiors began to understand that Gabaldon might have some very valuable skills to be used.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Private Guy Gabaldon (right) poses with a few of the Japanese soldiers and civilians who surrendered to him in 1944 during World War II.

They commissioned him to continue in his unique endeavors. In time, a Japanese officer came forward wanting to talk to Gabaldon. He negotiated terms of surrender with the Japanese officer and was able to bring in more than 800 Japanese soldiers and civilians, taking them out of the fight against his fellow Marines.

After Saipan was taken, Gabaldon’s Marine unit participated in the landings on the island of Tinian where he continued to perform his “magic” with the Japanese defenders. When the battle for Tinian was over, Gabaldon had negotiated the surrender of a total of 1,500 Japanese soldiers and civilians on the two islands. 


Nothing like this had ever been done before.

Source: YouTube/Tomas Salinas
Guy Gabaldon next to Jeffrey Hunter, the much larger actor who portrayed him in the film, “From Hell to Eternity.”

Because of his experiences living with the Nakano family, Gabaldon knew enough about Japanese culture and language that he was able to somehow override the Japanese Samurai warrior attitude of Bushido, or no surrender. For his actions on Saipan and Tinian, Gabaldon was put up for the Medal of Honor, but this was denied and he was awarded a Silver Star.

In 1960, this award was upgraded to a Navy Crossm but there is currently a review underway to upgrade the Navy Cross to the Medal of Honor.

It seems to this writer that this would be appropriate. What Corporal Guy Gabaldon did is unique to the annals of heroism. His actions are worthy of being emulated and copied as well.

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The Veterans Site wishes to express its deepest respect and honor to the memory of this unique and courageous Marine. His unique story of heroism needs to be remembered.

OooRah, Marine! Semper Fidelis!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.
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