Area war hero may finally get honors earned

Published: Monday, January 23, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 22, 2006 at 10:38 p.m.
OLD TOWN - While Guy Gabaldon spends today quietly at his home in Dixie County, a documentary about his life will be put up for sale in Hollywood.
Gabaldon's story of heroism and the Marine Corps and World War II has already been made into one feature film by Hollywood. He is optimistic that the new documentary being pitched on the West Coast today will help spread the real story about what he did and how he was - or was not - recognized for his actions. He is not alone in believing that heroism by himself and other veterans was never properly recognized.
While work on the documentary was under way, Congress passed a new law directing military leaders to review the records of Hispanic Americans, like Gabaldon, and Jewish Americans, to ensure that they received the medals to which they were entitled.
Department of Defense spokeswoman Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke said each branch of the U.S. military was directed by the new law to review the medals awarded to Hispanic American and Jewish American war veterans.
Gabaldon, a descendent of the Conquistadores, is a 79-year-old World War II veteran who served with the Marines in Saipan and was recommended for the Congressional Medal of Honor. The recommendation was made by Gabaldon's commanding officers for Gabaldon's success as a private first class in single handedly convincing more than 1,500 Japanese soldiers and civilians on the island to surrender, including 800 in one day. Gabaldon, who grew up in Los Angeles, credited much of his success to learning to speak some Japanese from friends he made as a teenager.
"I think I was successful because I was able to speak to these Japanese in their own language - but mine was more than slang that I learned from by friends - and I could explain to them that they would not be killed if they surrendered," Gabaldon said. Instead of the Medal of Honor, Gabaldon wound up with a Silver Star, a worthy, but less prestigious military award.
Marine Corps records show that after WWII the secretary of the Navy conducted a review for all awards that had been upgraded or downgraded from the original recommendations. Marine Corps media officer Capt. Teresa Ovalle said that an oversight resulted in Gabaldon's case either not being submitted or not being reviewed at the time. However, in 1960, at about the same time that the movie about Gabaldon called "From Hell to Eternity" was being released, the case was reviewed and he was awarded the Navy Cross, a more prestigious medal than the Silver Star.
Ovalle said that under the recently enacted federal law, each branch of the military was directed to review records of every Jewish American and Hispanic American wartime veteran who received a Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Cross or Air Force Cross and determine if those veterans should be awarded the Medal of Honor.
In an e-mail to The Sun, Ovalle wrote that "The case of Mr. Gabaldon was submitted to the Secretary of the Navy as part of this review, and his case is currently pending SecNav (secretary of the Navy) review and decision." Gabaldon's case is among 1,575 being reviewed by the Navy alone.
Steve Rubin, a 30-year veteran producer of documentaries and feature films, said his sales pitch for the 77-minute-long documentary on Gabaldon will be made to theatrical film companies and television concerns like history and military channels. What a buyer will get is a look at what Gabaldon did in Saipan and why he and other Hispanic Americans and Jewish Americans who served as Marines received lesser awards.
"Up until WWII, the Marine Corps was mostly a bunch of white guys," Rubin said. "Based on my research, it appeared there was discrimination in the military, particularly in the Marine Corps. There was a lot of conflict once other people - non-Caucasians - started joining the Marines in World War II."
Gabaldon said his first attempts to get into the Marine Corps were rebuffed.
"Both of my older brothers were in the Navy, but I had a perforated ear drum that kept me out of there so I went over and talked to the Marines," Gabaldon recalled. "They weren't too interested in me until I told them I could speak some Japanese and then they couldn't wait to get me signed up."
Gabaldon's exploits as a Marine have never been a secret.
In 1957, he was featured on the popular television program "This is Your Life" hosted by Ralph Edwards. In the 1960 movie, Jeffrey Hunter starred as Gabaldon. In 1990, Gabaldon self-published a book he titled "America Betrayed! Did 4,000 Marines Die in Vain?" He has been and continues to be a speaker at gatherings of veterans around the country.
Karen Voyles can be reached at (352) 486-5058 or

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