OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Military officials have dedicated a statue of an Oklahoma soldier who won the Medal of Honor for his actions during World War II.
The ceremony held Sept. 25 at the Oklahoma Army National Guard’s 45th Infantry Division Museum was attended by members of the family of 2nd Lt. Ernest Childers, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation who was from Broken Arrow.
The tribe commissioned the statue, which was sculpted by artist Sandra Van Zandt of Oklahoma City.
Childers became the division’s first Medal of Honor winner. He received the honor for his actions during a battle with Nazi soldiers in Italy Sept. 22, 1943. He retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1965 and died in 2005.
“He was a figure that we all looked up to and honored in the 45th,” Maj. Gen. Myles Deering said during the dedication ceremony.
According to Oklahoma Army National Guard records, Childers had broken his ankle while dodging Nazi gunfire but still led eight soldiers on that day in September 1943.
“I crawled back and told my men to lay down a base of fire over me,” Childers told an interviewer later.
He crawled toward a Nazi machine gun nest and shot the Germans before they could fire on him. When he spotted more enemy soldiers in the distance, he threw rocks at them because he lacked grenades.
“I assume they thought it was a hand grenade, because nobody throws rocks,” Childers told the interviewer.
The Nazi soldiers scrambled and were shot and killed by Childers and another soldier. As he continued crawling, Childers single-handedly captured an enemy mortar observer and held another German at gunpoint – even though Childers’ rifle was empty.
The statue shows Childers standing in his infantry uniform, wearing the Medal of Honor around his neck.
“When we were little, it was just Dad,” said his daughter, Yolanda Elaine Childers of Tulsa. “As we grew older, we are fully aware that my father was one of the great men, not just of this century or the last century, but of the millennium. I firmly believe that.”
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