Robert E. Galer receives the Medal of Honor on March 24, 1945.

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D
  • Posted 8/12/2014
  • Essay 10799
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On March 24, 1945, in a White House ceremony, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) presents the Medal of Honor to Colonel Robert E. Galer (1913-2005). Galer receives the award for his heroic actions during World War II on the Solomon Islands. In October 1942, he used daring and innovative aerial-combat techniques to down 11 of Japan's fighter planes. Despite facing an enemy with superior numbers, he inspired his squadron to excel. Galer is Seattle-born, and a graduate of Queen Anne High School and the University of Washington. He will later serve in the Korean War and will retire from the Marine Corps in 1957 as a brigadier general.

A Seattle Athlete

At Queen Anne High School, in Seattle, Galer excelled in sports. He attended the University of Washington, majoring in commercial engineering. He was a forward on the university basketball squad and in 1934 was chosen to the All American mythical team. Galer also completed the university Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program.

Following graduation in 1935 he started aviation training at the Naval Reserve Aviation Base, Sand Point, Seattle. In June 1936 he went to Pensacola, Florida, to continue Navy flight training. One month later Cadet Galer was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps and continued his flight training. He earned his Naval Aviator wings in April 193.

His first assignment was two years in the Virgin Islands. This was followed by assignments to bases at Quantico, Virginia, and San Diego. He was promoted to first lieutenant in July 1939. In 1940 First Lieutenant Galer received orders to join the Marine Fighter Squadron Two (VMF-2).

War Years

In January 1941 First Lieutenant Galer went with Marine Fighter Squadron Two, VMF-2, to Hawaii, where the squadron had an air defense. In March that year he was promoted to captain.

On December 7, 1941, the day of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, Galer was serving with Marine Fighter Squadron 211, VMF 211, stationed at Ewa Field, outside Honolulu. The attack destroyed the squadron's aircraft on the ground, leaving it unable to retaliate. The aircrews grabbed rifles and shot ineffectively at the attacking planes.  

In August 1942 Galer was promoted to major and given command of Marine Fighter Squadron 224, VMF 224. He took the squadron to the Solomon Islands in September 1942. In October during the Solomon Island’s action he had a remarkable success in downing 11 enemy planes. One day he shot down three aircraft in one minute.  

Major Galer took advantage of the American aircraft performance success at higher altitudes. He would climb to high altitudes above 25,000 feet, and attack downward. This was a daring and innovative technique, but physically very taxing. Major Galer's innovation and heroics inspired his squadron to achieve an exceptional record. The squadron destroyed 27 Japanese aircraft in that month. Major Galer’s valor in this one-month battle would be recognized with the Medal of Honor.

He remained in the South Pacific until March 24, 1943, when he was ordered back to the United States. Stateside he would impart his combat knowledge to marines heading to the war in the Pacific. In November 1943 he returned to the Pacific and was promoted to lieutenant colonel and Chief of Staff Marine Air, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. 

For World War II Colonel Galer had 13 confirmed enemy planes shot down. In addition to being awarded the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony on March 24, 1945, he was awarded the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Flying Cross three times, the Purple Heart, and other combat decorations.

The Korean War

In the early postwar years, Galer received stateside assignments. In March 1951 he was promoted to colonel.  

The war in Korea included many aerial battles. Colonel Galer commanded Marine Air Group 12 and flew combat missions as a fighter pilot.

On August 5, 1952, he was shot down by antiaircraft fire over North Korea. He went over the side of his damaged Corsair fighter plane. While exiting, his foot caught in a cockpit strap and he dangled head down from the plane. Colonel Galer was able to pull himself up and get free and deploy his parachute. As he descended, he was hit by the tail of the plane and broke some ribs and injured his back. 

He landed in enemy territory and signaled his air group. They directed a rescue helicopter to him. An hour later the helicopter arrived and recovered Colonel Galer. On its return to the recovery ship, the helicopter was hit by antiaircraft fire, but managed to make it to the ship.

Colonel Galer spent some time in the hospital recovering from his injuries and then received orders to Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro, California. He would complete advanced studies at the Air War College, Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama.  In June 1954 he became the Assistant Director of the Guided Missiles Division, Bureau of Aeronautics, Washington D.C., and later its acting director. In June 1956 he earned a Master of Engineering Administration degree from George Washington University.  

Life After the Marines 

In 1957 Brigadier General Robert Galer retired and became a corporate executive in Texas. He was elected to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and Washington State Sports Hall of Fames. He died in 2005.

In October 2009 a Medal of Honor monument was dedicated on the University of Washington campus. It honors the eight University of Washington alumni who have been awarded the Medal of Honor. The Robert E. Galer, Department of Defense elementary school at Beaufort, South Carolina, carries his name.

Sources: Donald K. and Helen L. Ross, Washington State Men of Valor (Burley, Washington: Coffee Break Press, 1980); "Athlete May Be Marine Officer," The Seattle Daily Times, April 23, 1936, p. 8; "Galer Stars in War as well as Athletics," Ibid., November 1, 1942, p. 1; "Galer Plays For 'Keeps’', Japs Learn,"  Ibid., November 1, 1942, p. 1; "Training Cooled Battle Nerves,"  Ibid., January 31, 1943, p. 9; "Medal of Honor Man,"  Ibid., March 25, 1945, p. 26; "'Bob' Galer, Ex-U.W. Star Athlete, Crashes In N. Korea; Rescued,"  Ibid., August 8, 1952, p. 3; "Indestructible Galer Tells of Escape,"  Ibid., August 20, 1952, p. 7.

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