Robert M. Viale was born in Bayside, California on April 21, 1916. He was a member of the California National Guard who was federalized for service in the United States Army on March 3, 1941 in the days before our entry into World War II. What would have been a one-year call-up obviously became much longer.
By February 5, 1945, Viale was a Second Lieutenant and rifle platoon leader in Company K, 3rd Battalion, 148th Infantry Regiment of the 37th Infantry Division. During the Battle for Manila in the Philippines, he was leading his men through the city against the fortified Japanese occupiers. Viale was positioning himself to throw a grenade when, in his weakened state from wounds, he dropped it amongst his own men, leaving him with only one thing he could do to save them.
*VIALE, ROBERT M.
Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army, Company K, 148th Infantry, 37th Infantry Division. Place and date: Manila, Luzon, Philippine Islands, 5 February 1945. Entered service at: Ukiah, Calif.
G.O. No.: 92, 25 October 1945
Citation: He displayed conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty. Forced by the enemy’s detonation of prepared demolitions to shift the course of his advance through the city, he led the 1st platoon toward a small bridge, where heavy fire from 3 enemy pillboxes halted the unit. With 2 men he crossed the bridge behind screening grenade smoke to attack the pillboxes. The first he knocked out himself while covered by his men’s protecting fire; the other 2 were silenced by 1 of his companions and a bazooka team which he had called up. He suffered a painful wound in the right arm during the action. After his entire platoon had joined him, he pushed ahead through mortar fire and encircling flames. Blocked from the only escape route by an enemy machinegun placed at a street corner, he entered a nearby building with his men to explore possible means of reducing the emplacement. In 1 room he found civilians huddled together, in another, a small window placed high in the wall and reached by a ladder. Because of the relative positions of the window, ladder, and enemy emplacement, he decided that he, being left-handed, could better hurl a grenade than 1 of his men who had made an unsuccessful attempt. Grasping an armed grenade, he started up the ladder. His wounded right arm weakened, and, as he tried to steady himself, the grenade fell to the floor. In the 5 seconds before the grenade would explode, he dropped down, recovered the grenade and looked for a place to dispose of it safely. Finding no way to get rid of the grenade without exposing his own men or the civilians to injury or death, he turned to the wall, held it close to his body and bent over it as it exploded. 2d Lt. Viale died in a few minutes, but his heroic act saved the lives of others.
Viale today rests in peace in the Ocean View Cemetery in Eureka, California. 3rd Battalion, 148th Infantry and the 37th Infantry Division are presently inactive. The lineage of the 37th division is preserved by the 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the Army National Guard, comprised of Guardsmen from Michigan and Ohio.