Retired Brig. Gen. Robert E. Galer, 91, a Marine Corps ace who received the Medal of Honor for aerial combat in the South Pacific during World War II and made a narrow air escape during a Korean War mission, died June 27 at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. He had had a stroke.
Gen. Galer joined the Marine Corps after college graduation in 1935 and trained as an aviator, hoping to emulate his idol, Charles Lindbergh. His start was inauspicious, crashing in one of his first airborne attempts.
By the time the United States entered World War II, he was far more seasoned -- although on several occasions he was shot down by enemy fire and landed in the water. He once swam to a nearby island, where locals returned him by canoe to the nearest Marine outpost. He arrived at his home base in time to see preparations being made for his memorial service.
On Guadalcanal, while commanding an undermanned but dogged Marine fighter squadron, he received the Medal of Honor, the military's highest award for valor.
He and his men were based on a small Japanese airstrip rechristened Henderson Field, where the fliers were dubbed the Cactus Air Force. By mid-1942, then-Maj. Galer was sending up his handful of planes to engage, on any given mission, an average of 40 Japanese bombers and fighters.
His only advantage was being radioed in advance by a coast watcher of Japanese takeoffs. This also saved gas, as his pilots did not have to roam the skies wondering when the Japanese would sweep over them.
That September, while piloting a Grumman F4F Wildcat, he managed to shoot down 11 enemy bomber and fighter planes against astonishing odds. "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 Medal of Honor citation read.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented him with the award March 24, 1943.
Superiors resisted sending Medal of Honor recipients back into combat, but Gen. Galer persisted and eventually returned to the skies during the Korean War.
As commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 12, he managed to strike effectively at the enemy's industrial center in Pyongyang in July 1952 and was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross.
The next month, however, his plane was hit 100 miles into enemy territory.
"I did a dumb thing," he told a Dallas reporter a few years ago. "We were bombing, and when we finished, I went back to take a picture. And this anti-aircraft gun, he nailed me."
As he tried to eject at a high altitude, his foot became trapped in the shoulder harness. He struggled free only at the last minute and smacked part of the plane's tail as he parachuted out 150 feet from the ground, breaking his ribs.
He hid until a Navy helicopter located him and whisked him to safety while communist snipers fired, hitting the rescue craft three times and causing it to spin. The helicopter made it back through fog with 10 gallons of fuel left, he told the Dallas Morning News.
He later told another interviewer: "Before WW II started, I lost an airplane while carrier qualifying off San Diego. At Guadalcanal, I got shot down three times. In Korea, I was a group leader and got shot down about 100 miles behind enemy lines, and the Navy came in and got me. My smart-aleck son, who is an Air Force pilot, says, 'That's five airplanes you lost. You're an enemy ace.' "
Robert Edward Galer was born Oct. 23, 1913, in Seattle, where his father was a fire chief. He was a commercial engineering graduate of the University of Washington, where he was an all-American basketball star. Later, he received a master's degree in engineering administration from George Washington University.
His final active-duty military assignment, in 1957, was as assistant director of the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics' guided-missiles division.
He settled in Dallas, became an executive with Ling-Temco-Vought -- the conglomerate known as LTV -- and worked in real estate for Bright & Co., owned by Harvey R. "Bum" Bright, who once owned the Dallas Cowboys.
His marriage to Dorothy Beyer Galer ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife of 23 years, Sharon Alexander Galer of Dallas; two sons from his first marriage, retired Air Force Col. Robert T. "Tip" Galer of Park City, Utah, and Vincent H. Galer of Dallas; two stepchildren, Charles Keller and Christine Brooks, both of Dallas; a brother; and six grandchildren.