Rudolph B. Davila was born on April 27, 1916, in El Paso, Texas, to Nicolas Davila, who was Spanish, and Maria Davila, who was Filipino. He had one sister and two brothers. The family moved to the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, when Rudolph was a child.
Davila joined the US Army in 1939 and was assigned to Company H of the 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division. On May 28, 1944, he and his division were near Artena, Italy, when they broke through German mountain strongholds surrounding the Anzio beachhead. As a Staff Sergeant in charge of a machine gun platoon, Davila and his men were ordered to protect a 130-man rifle company.
During the mission, German troops opened fire on Davila and his platoon as they were climbing a grassy hilltop. Realizing they were vulnerable and completely exposed on the hillside, many of Davila’s machine gunners retreated. It was at this point that Davila, under heavy enemy attack, crawled 50 yards to the nearest machine gun and, from a kneeling position, fired over 750 rounds into enemy strongholds. “I had no time to think of anything but how all those Americans were about to be killed,” Davila stated in his Medal of Honor interview.
After silencing one German machine gun, Davila ordered one of his gunners to take over the position so he could move forward and direct fire at another German machine gun from a better vantage point, an action that resulted in the elimination of two more enemy machine guns. Afterward, the platoon was able to set up three additional machine guns, which were used to push the enemy back 200 yards.
Despite being slightly wounded in the leg, Davila continued his assault, entered a burning tank, jumped inside, and began firing at the enemy from the tank’s turret. From there, he made his way 130 yards to a bombed-out farmhouse, which German troops had been using to conceal their machine guns. According to Davila, he spotted two rifle barrels shooting from a window, which prompted him to throw a grenade into the building. He then climbed into the attic and opened fire at the retreating enemy soldiers, killing five.
Afterward, Davila received a battlefield commission to Second Lieutenant. He continued to serve with his company until late 1944 when he was seriously wounded in the right shoulder by a tank shell in France. For his service, Davila received the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest medal for valor.
In 1996, however, the National Defense Authorization Act called for the review of Asian American, Native American, and Pacific Islander military records to see if any who had been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross or Navy Cross during World War II were overlooked for the Medal of Honor due to prejudice. After Congress determined that Davila had been passed over, he was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2000—more than half a century after the incident in Italy—from President Bill Clinton alongside 21 other men for their actions during World War II. Davila died in 2002 at age 85.
His Medal of Honor citation reads:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Staff Sergeant Rudolph B. Davila distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action, on 28 May 1944, near Artena, Italy. During the offensive which broke through the German mountain strongholds surrounding the Anzio beachhead, Staff Sergeant Davila risked death to provide heavy weapons support for a beleaguered rifle company. Caught on an exposed hillside by heavy, grazing fire from a well-entrenched German force, his machine gunners were reluctant to risk putting their guns into action. Crawling fifty yards to the nearest machine gun, Staff Sergeant Davila set it up alone and 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 the tripod and passed between his legs. Ordering a gunner to take cover, 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 two hundred 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 the tank's 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, which forced 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 State Army.”