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Medal of Honor Recipient Ernest Childers Dies at 87

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 23, 2005; Page B06

Ernest Childers, 87, a Native American and Army veteran who received the Medal of Honor for his combat service in Italy during World War II, died March 17 at a hospice in Tulsa after strokes. He lived in Coweta, near Tulsa.

He was a second lieutenant in the 45th Infantry Division when he received the Medal of Honor, the highest military award for valor.

After he was awarded the Medal of Honor, Ernest Childers met with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. (Family Photo)

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He arrived on the beaches of Salerno in early September 1943, after the invasion of Italy had begun. He learned that many in his division, which included his school friends, were pinned down by machine-gun fire in mountainous terrain near Oliveto.

On Sept. 22, he organized a group of eight soldiers to help clear the way so the division could advance. In the pre-dawn mist, he came under fire, fell into a shell crater and broke his ankle.

He crawled to an aid station, only to see it destroyed by an incoming shell. The doctor and several of Lt. Childers's friends perished.

"I crawled back and told my men to lay down a base of fire over me," he told an interviewer. "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."

After recovering from his wounds in North Africa, he was sent back into combat and fought at the Battle of Anzio, where he was wounded again. While recovering in a military hospital in Naples, he received word that a general wanted to see him.

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