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Friday, July 1, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Obituary | Robert Galer, hero just doing his job

Seattle Times staff reporter

He was not much to talk about his heroism, the kind that gets you the nation's highest decoration, the Medal of Honor.

But in the archives of the Marine Corps Historical Center are the words of the young Robert E. Galer, who died Monday in Dallas at age 91, a retired brigadier general. Not even his wife, Sharon, knew about the historical material at the Washington., D.C., center.

It came about in December 1942, when Mr. Galer was 29, a fighter pilot on furlough on his way to his family home in Seattle.

Mr. Galer had his roots here. He was a 1935 University of Washington graduate in engineering, earning money working at the school's bookstore; he had played basketball for the UW, leading it to a division championship and earning All-America honors as a forward. He later was inducted into the Husky Hall of Fame.

It was what Mr. Galer did from August to September of 1942 that earned him the medal given at the White House by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The citation said: "Leading his squadron repeatedly in daring and aggressive raids against Japanese aerial forces, vastly superior in number, Major Galer availed himself of every favorable attack opportunity, individually shooting down 11 enemy bomber and fighter aircraft over a period of 29 days."

In 1942, his squadron was assigned to Guadalcanal. On the Web site globalsecurity.org, a defense-policy organization, there is a description of conditions during those days of war:

" ... miserable ... The field was either a bowl of black dust or a quagmire of mud. Malaria and dysentery were constant companions. Sleep in mud-floored tents was constantly interrupted by bombardments from Japanese ships and planes."

Mr. Galer was shot down three times as he flew the Grumman Wildcat F4F-4s.

Interviewed by the Corps, he recounted one of the times he was shot down. He spoke in the colloquialisms of those times:

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"I pancaked into the water near Florida Island, a small bit off the Solomons some 25 or 30 miles from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. It took me an hour and a half to swim ashore, which gave me plenty of time to do some worrying ... about the tide turning before I made it, or about man-eating sharks and poisonous stingrays which infested the waters. ... "

Mr. Galer was awarded numerous other medals, including a Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross.

He also served in the Korean War, making a harrowing escape in August 1952, when his Corsair plane was shot down. His foot caught in a cockpit strap and he dangled head down as the plane plummeted. He finally managed to parachute 150 feet from the ground, suffering cracked ribs and a damaged shoulder.

He retired from the Marine Corps in 1957, then worked as an engineer on missiles in Texas, and finally in real estate. He died of a stroke.

A memorial service was held yesterday in Dallas. Besides his wife, Mr. Galer is survived by three sons, Robert, of Park City, Utah; Vincent, of Dallas; Charles, of Dallas; a daughter, Christine Brooks of Dallas; a brother, Fred Galer of Seattle; and six grandchildren.

Sharon Galer said her husband still had a Husky blanket. She said he had "great stories" about the war but never brought them up himself.

"He was very humble and felt like he was doing his job," she said.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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