FORT MOORE, Ga. (WRBL) — Out of ammo, with a broken foot and under a German mortar attack, a Native American soldier managed to save a team of soldiers and capture and kill enemy forces. That soldier was Lt. Col. Ernest Childers, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) tribe. At the time, he was a second lieutenant with the Thunderbird Division (45th Infantry Division) deployed in Oliveto, Italy in 1943.
The next year, Childers was a Medal of Honor recipient. On the afternoon of Nov. 16, 2023 he became permanently memorialized as Fort Moore’s Access Control Point 8 was redesignated as the Childers Gate in a ceremony led by Fort Moore Garrison Commander Col. Colin P. Mahle and members of Childers’ family.
“He had no idea he was receiving that medal,” said Childers’ daughter Donna Childers Thirkell about her father’s humility. Thirkell flew in from Houston, Texas, to tell her father’s story on the day of the ceremony.
She said, “I really appreciate so much of it, everyone getting in touch with me and bringing me here to you today, it’s incredibly touching.”
Childers’ niece Joyce Bear, also brought in to speak at the memorialization, acknowledged what it meant to be standing in Georgia, 150 years after the relocation of over 100,000 Native Americans as part of the 1830 Indian Removal Act.
“It really is a privilege to come back home, and this, Georgia and Alabama, is where my people came from,” said Bear. She continued, “We were basically run out of here by the Army, and so it is wonderful to come back and be received as we are today.”
Although Thirkell admitted she retold Childers’ story with less colorful language than it had been recalled to her in, she proudly recounted what happened that day in Oliveto.
Childers was in a Red Cross medic station for a broken foot when mortars started coming down, killing friends which Childers had joined the Oklahoma Army National Guard with in 1937 as a high school student.
As mortar fire continued, it was Childers’ cleverness, hewn from a difficult childhood, which saved his life and those of the soldiers who escaped the hospital with him, fighting their way up a hillside filled with nests of German soldiers, Thirkell explained.
Growing up, Childers was responsible for doing his family’s hunting, but his mother would only give him one bullet. If Childers didn’t make the shot, his family would go hungry. So, Childers made use of rocks to create distractions and increase his chances of being able to feed the family.
In Oliveto, this old tactic came out once more. Thirkell said, “He would take a rock and he would try to hit the enemy’s helmet and it was to make him turn his head. But the enemies thought they were grenades and they jumped out of the nest and continued up the hill.”
By the time the group made it to the final nest, they were out of ammo, but luck was in their favor, Thirkell recounted. The fully-belted enemy soldiers didn’t speak English and never realized the Americans had no ammo, so Childers and his men took them prisoner and survived the day.
Thirkell’s voice broke as she addressed the crowd, remembering her father, who passed away in 2005. She said, “He’s been gone a while now and I just thank you for involving me.”
As Army soldiers in Airborne School prepared for a jump and C-17s and C-130s passed by overhead, Mahle reflected he would be looking at Lawson Army Airfield, where the ceremony was held, a little differently from now on.
“We memorialize our heroes but we don’t always get to hear about these kinds of firsthand stories,” said Mahle, “and that’s what’s really special to me, and really what I’m gonna remember every time that I come through this gate.”
From now on, Access Control Point 8 will be known as the Childers Gate. It is the first of five access control points at Fort Moore which will be memorialized in the coming months.
The memorialization comes at the end of the Army’s annual tribal consultation meetings hosted at Fort Moore and during Native American Heritage Month.
Childers was the first Native American soldier to receive the Medal of Honor in World War II. Following the award, Childers was transferred to Fort Moore as a Ranger instructor. He served in the Army until his retirement in 1965.
Manuever Center of Excellence (MCoE) Commander Maj. Gen. Curtis A. Buzzard; his wife, Teri Buzzard; wife of Armor School Commandant Brig. Gen. Michael J. Simmering, Erikka Simmering and other distinguished guests were in attendance for the memorialization.