06 June 2004

Japanese-speaking Chicano 'Pied Piper' on Saipan, 1944

In the 6 June 2004 Honolulu Star-Bulletin, reporter Gregg K. Kakesako profiles Guy Gabaldon, a Chicano kid raised by a Japanese family in East Los Angeles who single-handedly convinced 1,500 Japanese soldiers to surrender on Saipan in July 1944. Of course, being an American reporter in the 21st century, he emphasizes his subject's victimhood more than his heroism.
Some say "The Pied Piper of Saipan" never got the proper credit for single-handedly capturing 1,500 Japanese prisoners in World War II....

He corralled more than 800 prisoners on July 8, 1944. Gabaldon was only an 18-year-old Marine Corps private first class who had learned the language while growing up with a Japanese family in East Los Angeles.

"The first night I was on Saipan, I went out on my own," said Gabaldon, who now lives in Old Town, Fla. "I always worked on my own, and brought back two prisoners using my backstreet Japanese.

"My officers scolded me and threatened me with a court-martial for leaving my other duties, but I went out the next night and came back with 50 prisoners. After that I was given a free rein."

His pitch simply was that the Japanese would be treated humanely....

"I came from such a large Latino family that no one objected when I moved in with a Japanese family. They were my extended family. It was there I learned Japanese, since I had to go language school with their children everyday."

But when the war broke out his Japanese family was relocated to a detention camp in Arizona and he went to Alaska and worked in a fish cannery and as a laborer until he decided to enlist in the Marine Corps at the age of 17.
Gabaldon's story inspired the 1960 motion picture "Hell to Eternity" starring no one that looked Chicano. (But at least the Japanese general was played by the prolific Sessue Hayakawa.)

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