September 4, 1998

Mexican American War Hero Fighting for Recognition

SAN CLEMENTE (AP) - For years Pete Limon has heard stories of World War II hero Guy Louis Gabaldon. And although their paths have never crossed, it is Limon's goal to see that Gabaldon gets what he deserves.

Gabaldon, who served in the Western Pacific, was commended for having captured hundreds of Japanese prisoners — mostly by persuasion. His tactics earned him the Navy Cross and he was depicted in the 1960 movie "Hell to Eternity."

But that is not enough for Limon and others in the Hispanic community.

"I feel Gabaldon should have been granted the Medal of Honor," Limon said, "but he was slighted because of his Mexican descent."

Limon said he has been fascinated for decades by the story of Gabaldon, whose heroics Mexican American veterans regard as equaling those of Audie Murphy, the most decorated U.S. soldier of World War II.

Gabaldon, a native of Southern California who lives in Saipan where he was once stationed, recounted his wartime experiences during a telephone call last week:

On his first day in combat, he killed 33 Japanese soldiers. But Gabaldon was so overcome with remorse afterwards, he chose a new tactic.

He began going out alone and persuading Japanese soldiers to surrender to him, telling them they would be given food, water and medical care.

He would capture six soldiers at gunpoint but release three, telling them to spread the word about fair treatment as prisoners of war. He would also give them a warning: "If they didn't come back, I would blast the hell out of the three left behind." His method was so successful that he managed to take 800 prisoners in a single day.

Although Gabaldon's original Silver Star was upgraded to the Navy Cross after "Hell to Eternity" initiated a letter-writing campaign on his behalf, there is still resentment over the Marine Corps' decision. He also believes discrimination was the reason why he was not given the medal.

"No Mexican American was awarded a Medal of Honor" in either world war, Gabaldon said. "I think it was blatant discrimination by the Marine Corps."

Since then, 37 Latinos have received the Medal of Honor for bravery in combat in all branches of the military, but Gabaldon, though nominated in 1944, has yet to be chosen. And Limon, along with many others, say it is an injustice.

"He used their own language and he didn't kill them," Limon said. "In the process, he saved the lives of the Japanese but also probably thousands of GIs who would have had to face them in battle."

Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Los Angeles, was looking into the Medal of Honor nomination.

"Our staff is trying to gather documentation on Gabaldon's military award so the congresswoman can make an inquiry to the Department of the Navy on his behalf," said Yolanda Chavez, the Congresswoman's chief of staff.

Limon, a retired businessman, may soon be able to meet Gabaldon.

A committee is attempting to raise money to bring Gabaldon to Los Angeles for a Mexican Independence Day celebration Sept. 16.

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