Rudolph B. Davila – Second Lieutenant, United States Army

Arlington National Cemetery: Section 67, Grave 3458

Second Lieutenant Rudolph B. Davila distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 28 May 1944, near Artena, Italy.  During the offensive that broke through the German mountain strongholds surrounding the Anzio beachhead, (then) Staff Sergeant Davila risked death to provide heavy weapons support for a beleaguered rifle company.  Caught on an exposed hillside by heavy fire from a well-entrenched enemy force, his machine gunners were reluctant to risk putting their guns into action.

Crawling 50 yards to the nearest machine gun, Staff Sergeant Davila opened fire on the enemy.  In order to observe the effect of his fire, Sergeant Davila fired from the kneeling position ignoring the enemy fire that struck his tripod and passed between his legs.

Ordering a gunner to take over, he crawled forward to a vantage point and directed the firefight with hand and arm signals until both hostile machine guns were silenced.  Bringing his three remaining machine guns into action, he drove the enemy to a reserve position 200 yards to the rear.

When he received a painful wound in the leg, he dashed to a burned tank and, despite the crash of bullets on the hull, engaged a second enemy force from its turret.

Dismounting, he advanced 130 yards in short rushes, crawled 20 yards and charged into an enemy-held house to eliminate the defending force of five with a hand grenade and rifle fire.  Climbing to the attic, he straddled a large shell hole in the wall and opened fire on the enemy.  Although the walls of the house were crumbling, he continued to fire until he had destroyed two more machine guns.

His intrepid actions brought desperately needed heavy weapons support to a hard-pressed rifle company and silenced four machine gunners, forcing the enemy to abandon their prepared positions.

Staff Sergeant Davila's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army.

From contemporary press reports:

Vista, California – Rudolph B. Davila earned the admiration and awe of many local residents 20 months ago when he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in World War II.

Davila, a longtime Vista resident, died January 26, 2002, of natural causes after a long illness. He was 85.

After retiring from teaching in Los Angeles, Davila moved to Vista in 1977 with his wife, Harriet Davila. Davila was born in El Paso to a Filipino mother and Spanish father, and raised in Watts. In Vista, he attended the First Christian Church, which held a memorial service for him Sunday, said Davila's son Roland Davila of Evergreen, Colorado.

“He was a strong believer in God and was very active in his church for many years,” Roland Davila said. “He's always been an exemplary individual as far as being trustworthy, hard working, faithful to his wife and supportive of his children.”

Roland Davila said that while growing up, the children were unaware of their father's heroic feats. Later, his wife lobbied Army officials to award the Medal of Honor to her husband based on the actions he performed during the Allied offensive in Italy in May 1944. Davila, then a 27-year-old staff sergeant in charge of a 24-man machine-gun unit, is credited with saving a 130-man rifle company from certain slaughter by single-handedly destroying a Nazi machine gun nest.

“I don't remember being afraid or timid,” Davila told a North County Times reporter. “It just happened. I wasn't that kind of person. I wasn't violent. In fact, I was kind of a passive kind of guy. I just wanted to be a good soldier.”

An officer in the rifle company said he would recommend Davila for the Medal of Honor, the highest honor for battlefield valor. While Davila received the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest military honor, he was not awarded the medal. Though Davila said he did not believe discrimination was involved, many Asian-American veterans as well as black veterans alleged their battlefield deeds were not properly recognized. As a result of legislation waiving time limits for granting medals, Davila was among 21 Asian-American World War II veterans who received the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony in May 2000, several months after his wife had died.

“It was quite an experience for us to realize his name was basically going to be immortalized,” Roland Davila said. Subsequently, Davila was honored by the city. He served as the guest speaker at the Veterans of Foreign Wars' Memorial Day ceremony in 2001.

“He was a proud warrior,” said Ralph Gibbs, the quarter master of VFW Post 7041. “He's one of  the chosen few. Not too many have received the first and second highest awards for heroism.”

Roland Davila said his father will be cremated and buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. Besides Roland, Davila is survived by his other children, Jeffrey Davila of Calistoga, Gregg Davila of Santa Ana, Jill Link of La Habra and Tana Lemmenes of Clintonville, Wisconsin, and nine grandchildren.

Rudolph Davila
Medal Winner


Rudolph Davila, 85, who was presented with the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for valor, 56 years after he saved 130 U.S. soldiers from German machine-gun fire, died of cancer January 26, 2002, in Vista, California.

In 1944, his Army machine-gun platoon was going over a hill near Artena, Italy, as German gunners were preparing to ambush a company of riflemen. His platoon hung back, but then-Sergeant Davila swept the foothills with 750 rounds from a water-cooled machine gun. After spotting a rifle barrel in a farmhouse window about 50 yards away, he grabbed a rifle and two grenades, tossed the grenades upstairs and shot at the troops inside.

I yelled back again, ‘Bring the machine guns!'” recalls Rudolph Davila, sketching a steep hill on a sheet of paper. “But they still wouldn't move.”

Atop that hill, outside Artena, Italy, Davila faced a squad of German gunmen – and almost certain death – on May 28, 1944. Down the hill, a rifle company of 130 U.S. soldiers who had marched into an ambush lay belly-down in tall grass, praying for their lives.

On the ground several feet behind him were two dozen troops from his platoon, afraid to crest the hill. When they finally slid a gun to him, Davila emptied a stack of 250-round ammo chests into the bank of German gunners.

Spying a house crammed with more gunmen, Davila lobbed a pair of grenades through the windows, then bolted upstairs and pointed a rifle at the remaining gunners through a hole in the wall. They retreated.

Within 20 minutes, the 25-year-old had rescued the company from death.

“It was all automatic,” says Davila, 85 and living in Vista, California, “I just thought, ‘This is what I have to do as a soldier, and I'm doing it.'” But what made Davila rise to his knees with a machine gun while his fellow soldiers hugged the ground?

“I knew what I was fighting for, and most of the kids didn't,” he says, ascribing his self-assuredness to accounts he had read of Hitler. “I had this fervor about the defense of freedom, even though I couldn't define freedom. I just knew we were going to be enslaved to Hitler if we didn't defeat him.”

So focused was Davila that he fell deaf to the bullets whizzing past his ears and to his platoon's appeals to get down.

While he foiled the German gunners in less than half an hour, a Medal of Honor eluded Davila for more than half a century. The rifle team Captain sent a citation off but nothing came of it. Then, in 1996, Hawaii Senator Daniel Akaka secured a Congressionally mandated review of records for Asian-Americans like Davila who had earned the Distinguished Service Cross in World War II (in his case, for the Artena actions).

“I didn't want to think my country would deny me something because I'm not an
Anglo,” said Davila, son of a Filipino mother and a Spanish father. But only two of the 40,000-plus Asian-Americans who served in World War II had collected Medals of Honor.

“The conscience of America went to sleep, in my case, for 56 years,” he says.

In June 2000, Davila was one of 23 Asian-Americans handed a World War II medal. Fifteen other recipients were already dead.

Davila carried another badge from the war: a paralyzed right arm. Just as he ordered his men to storm a German tank in France's Vosges Mountains a few months after Artena, the tank fired a shell that ricocheted off a tree and ripped into his chest. “It felt as if someone had taken a baseball bat and hit me on the chest with all their might,” Davila remembers. Thirteen surgeries left his arm shriveled. But he put his good arm to use. Walking down a hall in a Southern California hospital, Davila grabbed a nurse's hand without saying a word. They wed three months later. For years, Harriet Davila petitioned the government for her husband's medal. No reply ever came. She died on Christmas Day 1999, six months before the blue ribbon was draped around his neck. Is Davila bitter?

“That's a bullet that hit me,” he says. “But it didn't penetrate.”

He waited 56 years for Medal of Honor

Rudolph Davila, awarded the Medal of Honor 56 years after he saved 130
American soldiers from German machine-gun fire, has died of cancer, his family says. He was 85.

Davila died of cancer at his home here (Vista, California) on January 26, 2002, relatives said.

In 1944, Davila's machine gun platoon was going over a hill near Artena, Italy, as German gunners were preparing to ambush a company of riflemen.

His platoon hung back, but Sergeant Davila swept the foothills with 750 rounds from a water-cooled machine gun. Then, after spotting a rifle barrel in a window of a farmhouse about 50 yards away, he grabbed a rifle and two grenades, crawled and ran to the building, tossed the grenades upstairs and shot at the troops inside.

“To this day, I can't tell you I killed. I don't want to think that I killed. I think I scared them away,” Davila said two years ago before President Clinton bestowed the Medal of Honor on him and 21 other World War II servicemen of Asian descent.

Davila, of Spanish and Filipino descent, received a battlefield commission to Lieutenant and the Distinguished Service Cross — the Army's second-highest citation for bravery. Later in 1944 during combat in France, a tank shell ripped through his chest, causing injuries that left his right arm paralyzed.

Davila, born in El Paso, Texas, and raised in Watts, met his wife of 54 years, Harriet, at the Modesto hospital where he was treated. He went on to earn bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Southern California, and became a high school history teacher in Los Angeles.

Even though he lost the use of his right arm, Davila was an excellent cook and gardener. He built at least two of his family's homes.

“You'd go crazy about what could have been,” Davila said recently. “You just do the best you can.”

For most of their life together Harriet Davila made phone calls, wrote letters and
researched military records to prove her husband deserved the Medal of Honor. He learned he would receive the medal a few months after she died in December 1999.

The honor came to Davila after Congress directed the Army to review the records of highly decorated servicemen of Asian descent to determine whether they were unfairly denied the military's highest award for valor. Only seven of 22 recipients were still alive when the medals were handed out.

“I didn't want to think my country would deny me something because I'm not an Anglo,” Davila said last year. But he added, “The conscience of America went to sleep, in my case, for 56 years.”

Davila is survived by three sons, Gregg of Santa Ana, Jeffrey of Calistoga and Roland of Evergreen, Colorado; two daughters, Tana Lemmenes of Clintonville, Wisconsin, and Jill Link of La Habra; and nine grandchildren.

Services were held at Arlington National Cemetery.


VETERAN SERVICE DATES: 05/20/1944 – 05/17/1950
DATE OF BIRTH: 04/27/1916
DATE OF DEATH: 01/26/2002

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