Updated: Mar 14
LT COL ERNEST CHILDERS
MEDAL OF HONOR
SEPTEMBER 22ND 1943
A. At what age did you enter the service and what was your overriding thought at the time?
I entered the U.S. National Guard while attending Chilocco Indian School at the age of 19 years old. This was still during Peace Time just prior to the U.S. getting into World War II. At that time my motive for enlisting was as a means of income for myself and my family. A few years earlier I had lost my father and we were living in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma where I was attending grade school. We had to move back to the farm east of Broken Arrow after my father died. I was the sole support of my mother and two younger brothers.
B. Were you more scared or more proud and why?
People who say that they aren’t “scared” a little to go into battle are either trying to fool themselves or you. Our training prepared us to face the dangers of adverse actions by the enemy. So, I wasn’t “scared”, per se, because I had received extensive training, but I knew that I was going to go into battle and all people who are sane possess a little healthy fear to keep them safe. Yes, we trained to be the Best, and the pride came into being one of the Best Trained. We always remembered that “The life you save may be your own.” As a farm boy, I was able to shoot rabbits running full speed with a 22. Rifle. Of course, I would miss one now and again, but back then we never went hungry thanks to my marksmanship. I would also work for other farmers when jobs were available, shooting their rabbits, too, so I became very good with a rifle.
C. During the battle for which you were cited for the Medal of Honor, what emotions were you experiencing?
When in combat, a soldier reverts to his training. We did what we were trained to do, and hoped for the best. Yes, you do experience fear during the heat of battle, but you also remember your training in order to survive through the battle.
D. What inspired you to do those things that day?
When I saw the enemy soldier, I knew I should make every shot a bullseye. You may only get that one chance before he gets you. You fight a war to live, win, and fight another day.
E. In retrospect, do any poignant moments come to mind during all of that action? If so, what are they?
I remember thinking, “That bastard has my school buddies pinned down, and I’m not going to let him do that!” I don’t know if this is “poignant”, but these were my friends, my troops, my buddies, and I wasn’t going to let them down.
F. What are your thoughts when you hear the National Anthem?
My very first thought is love for my country. I am an American Indian. For my country I stand with pride and respect for all that it stands for and for all of the brave men who made this country as great as it is. Some gave their lives so that I could remain free. I’ve never forgotten this fact. Remember, the American Indian only has THIS country, not some other country that he or his ancestors are from. Therefore, the National Anthem makes me proud to be both an American Indian and an American.
G. Other than what you received your Medal of Honor for can you share with me one story about you or another soldier that most brings war into perspective? Anything that you just can’t get out of your mind about your experiences in battle?
My close friend, Brummett Echohawk, tells the story about when we were out on patrol. His company, B Company of Pawnee Indian boys, and my company, C Company of Chilocco Indian School boys, “captured” each other one very dark night when we all first went out on patrol. Now, we didn’t really “capture” each other, we just encountered each other. But, knowing Brummett, he always adds a touch of humor to just about any situation. Even at a time like this when everything is serious, one of the interesting character facts about most American Indians is that they will try to make something humorous out of a very serious situation in order to then be able to handle the awfulness of the reality of war.
H. What “kept you going” over there? How did you mentally cope?
I am a soldier. I was trained the best way to fight a battle, a war. We thought and believed that we were the elite, the best. And we were! We did not start this war, but we were able to finish it with victory, and with the hope that we could make this a better world for humankind.
I. Tell me about the moment you heard that you were coming home?
I had mixed emotions. I really didn’t want to leave my friends who I had gone to school with and had fought with, but also, I thought about my family, my friends. Of course, I would like to see them. So, home it was. Bright lights, quiet, peaceful, serene. Also, the most important moment in my life occurred. I met my wife. That was a day I will always remember. And fifty-four years later I still think I made the right decision.
J. In light of what you’ve been through, what would you like people to understand about war?
War is the art of killing. It is the most effective way to destroy men, women, and children. Death is permanent. War is begun by someone, like Hitler, who desires to show his greatness over mankind, to impose his own hatred-ridden ego over all decent human beings. War doesn’t just happen, it is caused. And it is the responsibility of all decent human beings to see that this kind of person is never allowed to succeed.
K. Would you tell me a personal, private moment about your experiences that maybe you’ve never told anyone before?
No. Why should I tell anyone my private thoughts. That’s private! If I tell, then they’re no longer private!
L. How has the Medal of Honor affected your life?
It has given me a feeling of an obligation to everyone to show my thanks. Do I really deserve all of that attention for only doing my duty as a soldier in the U.S. Army? Sometimes I think that I don’t. I have never lived anywhere since 1944 without being a Medal of Honor Recipient, so for the greater part of my life, it has been a part of my life. I don’t know how my life would be without it. It has not affected my life so much as it has been a part of my life.
M. What’s the most important question that I didn’t ask? Then answer it for me.
You didn’t ask whether I enjoy world travel which I have been doing ever since I joined the U.S. Army. I enjoy world travel because of curiosity. I’m curious about and enjoy seeing new places and meeting people around the world. We have made very good friends around the world throughout our travels. As is often said, “Been there - Done that!” Besides that, I enjoy the varied cuisine of other countries, especially Italian as the food is prepared actually IN Italy!
How would you finish the following sentences?
I would like to change: Nothing. History - Let it be.
The character trait that I possess that I would most like to “pass on” to others would be: Honesty.
I would like my epitaph to read: Indian Warrior, Husband, Father, True-Hearted Man.
The person I most admire is: Yolanda L. Childers. Why? She is my Wife, my life support of my earthly needs, my Love, my Life’s Companion. Besides, it’s too late to train another one!
The single best word to describe me is: Modest.
My favorite emotion is: Happiness.
The problem with: America today (is) that people do not emphasize the need for education and obedience to the law as much as they should.
I’m most proud of: my children, who are educated and therefore are able to function independently, their American Indian heritage, their love of our country and pride in being a citizen of the United States of America.
LT COL ERNEST CHILDERS-MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT