Ken Harbaugh: Welcome to the Medal of Honor podcast, brought to you in partnership with the National Medal of Honor Museum. I’m Ken Harbaugh. In each episode, we’ll learn about a different service member who has distinguished him or herself through an act of valor.
Ernest Childers was born and raised in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.
He attended the Chilocco Indian Agricultural School, one of the boarding schools created by Congress to forcibly assimilate Native American children.
After high school, Ernest joined the Oklahoma Army National Guard.
His division, the 45th Infantry, known as the Thunderbirds, entered the Italian campaign in 1943. During their invasion of Sicily, Childers was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant.
Allied forces faced heavy enemy opposition in Italy and 2nd Lt. Childers’ regiment came under fire in Oliveto early on the morning of September 22nd.
Childers fell into a shell crater, fracturing the instep of his foot.
Despite his injuries, he led the eight men under his command up through mountainous terrain towards a group of houses used as enemy strongpoints.
He told his men to cover him while he crawled towards the buildings. As German snipers fired at him, Childers sprayed the first house with gunfire and approached the second house from the back.
He started throwing rocks, which the Germans took for hand grenades. When they came out in the open, Childers and one of his men shot and killed them.
He then continued up the hill and captured a German mortar observer. Childers was out of ammo at this point, but he bluffed and held the fully-armed soldier with an empty rifle. That soldier was the only German army survivor captured that day.
Childers recovered from his injured foot and stayed to fight in the Italian campaign. He also continued to serve after the war, remaining in the military through the Korean War and the first years of Vietnam.
As a dual citizen of the United States and the Muscogee Creek Nation, Ernest Childers was the first Native American to earn the Medal of Honor during World War II - and in fact, the first in over 60 years.
He retired as a lieutenant colonel and returned to Oklahoma. Where once he attended a school designed to erase his Native American identity, his hometown named a middle school after him, and erected a larger-than life statue, honoring his bravery and his heritage.
The Medal of Honor podcast is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. We are proud to support the National Medal of Honor Museum. To learn more, and to support their mission, go to mohmuseum.org. Thanks for listening.