- Date of Action: September-October 1942
- Squadron: Marine Fighting Squadron 224 (VMF-224)
- Location: Near Guadalcanal Island
He shouldn’t have even been at Guadalcanal. Robert “Bob” Galer was originally slated to be sent to Wake Island with Henry Elrod and the other Wildcat pilots of VMF-211, but Galer was held back in Hawaii at the last moment because he was one of the very few Marine pilots with Landing Signal Officer experience. Instead, the Seattle native was made the commanding officer of a new Marine Corps Fighter Squadron: VMF-224. Major Galer and his new squadron were hastily sent to Henderson Field on Guadalcanal Island on August 30, 1942. As a member of the famed “Cactus Air Force” Galer and his Wildcat pilots were quickly thrown into the ongoing aerial fray over and around the contested island.
While Galer was a very shy and soft-spoken man on the ground, he was a tiger in the skies above. With nine victories already credited to the squadron leader, Galer and his fellow pilots rose to attack a formation of incoming Japanese Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bombers on October 2, 1942. The four bombers were a decoy, designed to draw in the American fighters. Flying above the Betty bombers were thirty-six Japanese A6M2 Zero fighter planes ready to pounce on the unsuspecting Americans. At around 23,000 feet, Galer and his wingman engaged almost a dozen of the Zeros. After his wingman was shot down, Galer engaged in a series of desperate defensive maneuvers designed to stay out of the gunsights of the pursuing Zeros. Eventually, one of the Japanese fighters managed to get behind Galer and filled his Wildcat with machine gun and cannon rounds. Amazingly, Galer was unhurt, but his Wildcat was mortally wounded. With a dead engine, he glided down to the waters off of Florida Island and swam for almost an hour to reach the shore. When he returned to Henderson Field the next day, Galer arrived just in time to witness a memorial service held in his honor.
Major Galer continued to lead the men of VMF-223 until their evacuation on October 16, 1942. By this date, his score stood at thirteen confirmed victories. Impressed by his leadership and fighting skill, President Franklin D. Roosevelt awarded Bob Galer the Medal of Honor on March 24, 1943, at the White House in Washington DC.
Galer returned to the Pacific War in 1944, and also served as commander of Marine Air Group Twelve (MAG-12) during the Korean War. On August 5, 1952, while flying in an F4U Corsair, Colonel Galer was shot down by anti-aircraft artillery over Korea and was involved in a daring helicopter rescue. After his retirement from the Marines in 1957, Galer worked for Ling Temco Vought on the F8U Crusader and worked in real estate for Harvey “Bum” Bright, who was an owner of the Dallas Cowboys football team.
Medal of Honor Citation
For conspicuous heroism and courage above and beyond the call of duty as leader of a marine fighter squadron in aerial combat with enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands area. Leading his squadron repeatedly in daring and aggressive raids against Japanese aerial forces, vastly superior in numbers, Maj. Galer availed himself of every favorable attack opportunity, individually shooting down 11 enemy bomber and fighter aircraft over a period of 29 days. Though suffering the extreme physical strain attendant upon protracted fighter operations at an altitude above 25,000 feet, the squadron under his zealous and inspiring leadership shot down a total of 27 Japanese planes. His superb airmanship, his outstanding skill, and personal valor reflect great credit upon Maj. Galer’s gallant fighting spirit and upon the U.S. Naval Service.