Ernest “Chief” Childers MOH

b. 01/02/1918 Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. d. 17/03/2005 Coweta, Oklahoma. 

DATE OF MOH ACTION: 22/09/1943 Oliveto, Italy.

Ernest “Chief” Childers MOH

Childers was born in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, on February 1, 1918. He was raised on a farm that was part of his father’s original Creek tribal allotment. He was the third of five sons and the best shot, having been taught by his father, a Creek Nation lawyer and a great hunter. After his father died, he was responsible for feeding the family during the Depression years. His mother gave him one .22-caliber cartridge every day to kill a rabbit for dinner. “I got to be a very good aim,” he told a Tulsa reporter in 2002. “Because if I missed, we didn’t eat.” A Muscogee (Creek) Indian, he graduated from the Chilocco Indian Agricultural School in north-central Oklahoma. Coincidentally, Jack C. Montgomery, who also earned the Medal of Honor in World War II for service in Italy, graduated from the same school. In 1937, Childers joined the Oklahoma Army National Guard and was assigned to the 180th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division.

After the U.S. entry into World War II, he was sent to Europe and by September 22, 1943, he was a second lieutenant serving with 45th Infantry Division, 180th Infantry Regiment, in Italy. On that day, at Oliveto, he single-handedly killed two enemy snipers, attacked two machine gun nests, and captured an artillery observer. For these actions, he was awarded the Medal of Honor seven months later, on April 8, 1944. He was the first Native American to earn the medal since the Indian Wars of the 19th century.

The Medal of Honor was presented to Ernest on April 12, 1944, by Gen. Jacob L. Devers, Allied Deputy Commander, Mediterranean Theater, while he was recuperating in a military hospital near Anzio. When asked by an interviewer about his action, Childers said “I crawled back and told my men to lay down a base of fire over me. You see, I had to crawl because of my broken ankle. . . . I couldn’t tell that as I was crawling, I was crawling up a slope of a hill. I came up behind one of the German machine gun nests that had us pinned down.” As the Germans were turning their machine guns toward Lt. Childers, he was quicker and shot them dead. From his position, he saw a second nest and pitched in rocks to frighten the men manning it. “I assume they thought it was a hand grenade, because nobody throws rocks,” he said. When the Germans leapt out, he shot the first. Another U.S. soldier killed the second man. According to his Medal of Honor citation, Lt. Childers single-handedly captured an enemy mortar observer at a house further up the hill. No further detail was added. He later wrote a fuller description of what happened at that point: “The German must have been watching the action, because when he came out toward me, I was on my knees training my 30 caliber carbine on him. I was yelling to one of my men, ‘Take him prisoner!’ My sergeant yelled back, ‘Shoot the bastard!’ I yelled, ‘I can’t, I’m out of ammunition.’ ” “My body,” he added, “was wet with sweat since the German was fully armed, and I was holding an empty rifle on him. That German was the only surviving German in the entire action of that day.”

Remaining in the Army after the war, he later taught jungle training in Panama and winter training in Alaska before retiring in 1965 as a lieutenant colonel. A brief stint with the Job Corps program in Washington ended after he suffered a heart attack. Returning to Oklahoma, he spoke to students about the emotional costs of war. e died at age 87 and was buried at Floral Haven Memorial Gardens in his birthplace of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.



For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty in action on 22 September 1943, at Oliveto, Italy. Although 2d Lt. Childers previously had just suffered a fractured instep he, with 8 enlisted men, advanced up a hill toward enemy machinegun nests. The group advanced to a rock wall overlooking a cornfield and 2d Lt. Childers ordered a base of fire laid across the field so that he could advance. When he was fired upon by 2 enemy snipers from a nearby house he killed both of them. He moved behind the machinegun nests and killed all occupants of the nearer one. He continued toward the second one and threw rocks into it. When the 2 occupants of the nest raised up, he shot 1. The other was killed by 1 of the 8 enlisted men. 2d Lt. Childers continued his advance toward a house farther up the hill and, single-handed, captured an enemy mortar observer. The exceptional leadership, initiative, calmness under fire and conspicuous gallantry displayed by 2d Lt. Childers were an inspiration to his men.