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A Message by EEOC Chair Janet Dhillon on Hispanic Heritage Month 2019

Post from Chair Janet Dhillon - September 2019

Guy Gabaldon was one of seven children in a Mexican American family growing up in East Los Angeles, among a lot of other Latinos, along with Jews, Russians, Portuguese and Japanese.  At age 10, he was helping his family by shining shoes on Skid Row. "Gabby" later became a member of a multi-ethnic street tribe known as the "Moe Gang." 

At age 12, he moved to live with some friends, the Japanese Nakano family, whom he considered his extended kinfolk.  He attended language school every day with their children and learned to speak Japanese, as well as learning about their customs and culture. 

After Pearl Harbor, the Nakanos were moved to an internment camp like many  Japanese Americans, and Guy moved to Alaska to work in a cannery.  On March 22, 1943, his 17th birthday, he joined the Marines.  After finishing boot camp at Camp Pendleton, he polished his L.A. Japanese skills at the Enlisted Marine Japanese Language School at Camp Elliot in San Diego, and was then assigned to the 2nd Marine Division as a scout and observer.

In June 1944, Gabaldon was part of the U.S. force invading Saipan in the Mariana Islands - a key strategic point in preparation for the expected invasion of Japan.  Thousands of Japanese defenders were driven into caves, sometimes with women and children.  From his very first night on the island, Guy started going from cave to cave, using his Angeleno Japanese to coax soldiers and civilians into surrendering to him. 

Alone.  Time and again.  And against orders.  His commander told him to knock off his one-man Marine Corps act.  He said yes, sir, and kept doing it. 

For his heroic humanity, they called Guy the "Pied Piper of Saipan" - but instead of luring people to jump off cliffs, like the fabled piper of Hamelin, he kept them from jumping and lured them back to life.  Later, on equally strategic Tinian, he performed the same routine, saving more lives. 

Gabaldon saved over 1,500 "enemy" lives - and an uncountable number of Americans who might have been killed by last-ditch suicide attacks. 

Guy was awarded the Silver Star and Navy Cross, and his admirers are still lobbying for him to be given the Congressional Medal of Honor.  Were he to receive that honor, he would join 60 other Hispanics who have been bestowed with that highest military honor the nation can confer  - 42 of them posthumously. 

There was even a movie made about Guy, Hell to Eternity.  A commentator said that through that 1960 film, "A generation of baby boomers learned that even under the most horrific of circumstances, humanity can prevail if one soul decides it." 

But in that 1960 movie, Gabaldon's Latino ethnicity was never mentioned or indicated in any way, and 5'4" Guy was portrayed by 6'1" Anglo Jeffrey Hunter.   

Guy Gabaldon's story is but one of many that come from the formidable hearts and minds of our country's Hispanic population.  That's why the United States celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month.  The observance, from September 15 to October 15, celebrates the manifold contributions of nearly 60 million Hispanic Americans today - and their many more millions of ancestors - since well before our nation's founding. 

And that's why the EEOC takes particular pride and pleasure in protecting the civil rights of our hermanos y hermanas.  This year let's remember Guy Gabaldon, the Mexican American from East L.A. who was ready to die for his country but is remembered mainly for risking his life over and over - far from home - to save others.