On this day in 1916, a hero is born in El Paso, Texas. Rudolph B. Davila would go on to join the Army and to serve during World War II. He has been credited with saving the lives of 130 American soldiers.
He surely never expected to be a hero. He’d enlisted in the Army in 1939, largely because times were tough, and he needed a job.
Davila’s heroism came on May 28, 1944, as Americans worked to break though German strongholds in the mountains surrounding Anzio, Italy. Then-Staff Sergeant Davila was leading a machine gun platoon near the town of Artena. He and his men were to support a rifle company that was slightly ahead of them.
Yet Germans were lying in wait, ready to ambush that rifle company. Davila saw it, just as he reached the top of a hill.
“As I got to the crest of the hill,” Davila later described, “[the Germans] opened fire. And this hill was just covered with grass, tall grass. There was no cover for the rifle company that was lying there on the forward slope.”
The rest of the machine gunners were reluctant to engage the enemy. Their position was exposed, and the fire coming from the enemy was intense. Davila, however, was already on the move.
“I had no time to think of anything but how all those Americans were about to be killed,” he explained.
Davila dropped down on the grass and worked his way into a better position, even as he called over his shoulder to his men.
“I yelled back, I said, bring up a gun,” Davila later described. “And the gunners would not respond because they could see the bullets coming, just skimming the grass and just barely missing people. And so I said, well pass up the tripod. . . . . So they passed up a tripod and passed up the barrel. I assembled the machine gun, and I had my hand on the trigger already, so by the time that I got up on my knees, the gun was already firing.”
He was a virtual one-man army in the minutes that followed.
He silenced several of the enemy guns. He put another gunner in charge of his machine gun and crawled forward, directing fire with hand and arm signals. He charged a burned-out tank and was soon firing at the enemy from the tank turret. He ran for a bombed-out farmhouse and eliminated five of the enemy there, too.
Did I forget to mention that he was injured by then, but carrying on despite his injuries?
Davila’s actions made all the difference. The commanding officer of the ambushed rifle company was thankful. “If you hadn’t done that,” he told Davila, “we’d have all been slaughtered. When this is over, I’m going to write you up for the Medal of Honor.”
That Medal didn’t happen right away, unfortunately. Instead, Davila received a battlefield promotion and a Distinguished Service Cross. He eventually went home from the war, too badly injured to stay.
He left a military hospital in San Francisco with one arm permanently paralyzed, but there was a silver lining: One of the nurses became his wife! He felt blessed, but his wife continued to feel that her husband deserved a Medal of Honor.
Fifty years later, the Army reexamined old war records: Were some people denied a Medal because of their heritage? Davila’s mother had been Filipino.
In the end, Davila received a Medal. An old wrong was made right.
“He felt elated,” Davila’s son said when he passed away from cancer a few years later. “Not like winning the lottery elated, but a deep, emotional elation. And he was elated not so much for himself but for his family. He saw this as a statement about who we are as a family and who we are as Americans.”
Yet another member of the Greatest Generation, giving his all, just for love of country. Rest in peace, Sir.
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Dennis McLellan, Rudolph B. Davila, 85; Medal of Honor Given 56 Years After Feat (L.A. Times; Feb. 7, 2002)
Medal of Honor citation (Rudolph Davila; WWII)
Medal of Honor oral history (Randolph Davila; WWII)
Peter Collier, Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty (2d ed. 2006)
Richard Goldstein, Rudolph Davila, 85, Recipient Of Highest Award for Valor (NY Times; Feb. 11, 2002)