Fort Drum plaque dedicated to WWII veteran, Native American MOH recipient
By CRAIG FOX | Watertown Daily Times | Published: November 21, 2019
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — Lt. Col. Ernest Childers, the first Native American Medal of Honor recipient of the 20th Century, spent just three months training at the old Pine Camp before going off to the Second World War.
But Fort Drum officials honored the war hero — who’s credited with risking his life during combat in Oliveto, Italy, in September 1943 — during a plaque unveiling at a range facility on post on Wednesday morning.
During World War II, then-2nd Lt. Childers served with Company C, 180th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division.
“It’s really unusual for Fort Drum to honor an Oklahoma soldier from the 45th,” said Col. Christopher Chomosh, who traveled to the 10th Mountain Division from Tulsa.
Especially since Lt. Col. Childers, a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation who died in 2005, trained at Pine Camp only from November 1942 to January 1943 before heading off to Europe for 511 days of combat.
He and the other soldiers from the 45th needed winter training before they were shipped off to war and the north country provided the perfect climate.
“It was the coldest winter up to then,” said Lt. Col. Kyle Upshaw, 10th Mountain Division (LI) G9.
The war hero was credited with saving eight of his men during a fire fight with German Soldiers on Sept. 22, 1943, in Oliveto, Italy. He and the eight men advanced up a hill toward two machine gun nests and two snipers.
With his men providing cover, he avoided gunfire from two snipers, killing them both before moving on to the first machine gun nest and taking it out.
He used a different approach to remove the second machine gun nest; he threw rocks inside the nest to get two soldiers to come out. He shot one. The other was shot by one of his men.
He did all that despite having a broken foot.
“If that doesn’t give you the chills, I don’t know what will,” Col. Upshaw said.
Seven months later, the second lieutenant was awarded the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest and most prestigious personal military decoration.
Chomosh, the 45th’s commander, described Lt. Col. Childers as a humble man “who grew up very poor, one of five brothers.” His mother could not afford to buy meat, so she sent him to go rabbit hunting with one bullet.
“He became a very good shot at a young age,” he said, “If he missed, they did not eat meat.”
Childers was the most well known of the 10 members of the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team — known as the Thunderbirds — to receive the Medal of Honor. After returning home to Oklahoma, he lived on a family farm.
He kept his medals stashed away though. His daughter, Elaine, told the colonel that she only saw them twice while growing up when other veterans came over to the house.
Despite his unassuming nature, Oklahoma was well aware of what he did in Italy. His statue sits outside the Tulsa Veterans Administration building in Tulsa, as well as a photo of him hanging inside.
In April, the VA broke ground on a new $50 million outpatient clinic that will bear his name. Chomosh sat next to the lieutenant colonel’s daughter at the ground-breaking ceremony.
“She said he was proud to be a Creek warrior and proud to be a Thunderbird,” he said.
At Fort Drum, the Range 1 building was named for him back in 2001. On Wednesday, about 20 Fort Drum officials and veterans came together to commemorate a new plaque that was placed on the facility.
It reads: “For conspicuous valor and courage involved risking of life above and beyond the call of duty.”
Inside the small classroom, a large photo of the lieutenant colonel is displayed, as well as old photos of him from Pine Camp and throughout his career.
The ceremony was part of Fort Drum’s observance of National American Indian Heritage Month.
Later in the day, Ray Halbritter, CEO of the Oneida Nation, spoke at luncheon about the connection between his people and Fort Drum.