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The Range 1 facility at Fort Drum became known as the Lt. Col. Childers Inclement Weather Training Facility in 2019, honoring a World War II veteran who was the first Native American service member to receive the Medal of Honor. (Graphic by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)
 

First Native American Medal of Honor recipient lends name to training facility at Fort Drum

Mike Strasser

Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Feb. 14, 2024) – In 2019, Fort Drum’s Range 1 became known as the Lt. Col. Ernest Childers Inclement Weather Training Facility after a memorialization ceremony honored the first Native American to receive a Medal of Honor during World War II.

Childers, a Muscogee Creek Indian from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, was born on Feb. 1, 1918. His father, Ellis Childers, was a lawyer who served in the Creek House of Lords before Oklahoma entered statehood in 1907.

Childers, the third of five sons, was 12 when their father died. The family struggled with impoverishment during the Great Depression, and Childers would hunt game for their supper with a bolt-action short rifle. Later in life, he would often say that he was given a single round of ammunition per day to provide for the family.

“I got to be a very good aim,” he said in interviews. “Because if I missed, we didn’t eat.”

Childers attended the Chilocco Indian Agricultural School, a boarding school that assisted Native American children with integrating into mainstream society. In 1937, he joined the Oklahoma National Guard, which was called into active duty after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Childers trained with the 45th Infantry Division at Pine Camp (now Fort Drum) for nearly three months during the winter of 1942 in preparation for combat in Europe.

The division was the only unit to deploy straight from the U.S. into battle in Anzio, Italy, where they fought an entrenched German military for 135 days. Childers was a company first sergeant with the 180th Infantry Regiment, which landed in Salerno on Sept. 14, 1943.

Childers received a battlefield commission and, after securing the beaches in Salerno, moved on to an organized assault on the mountain town Oliveto. The 180th made enemy contact just before daylight on Sept. 22, during which Childers stumbled into a shell crater and broke his foot.

Despite the pain and barely able to walk, he led an attack on two enemy machine positions on top of a hill, killed two snipers, and captured a mortar observer.

In his book “The Rock of Anzio,” author Flint Whitlock captured Childers’ humble recollection.

“I encountered a group of Germans in a building. There were a couple of snipers in there, firing at me and other people, too,” Childers said. “Back in my early days on the farm, as a means of survival, I learned to shoot rabbits – running, even – with a 22. I’m not bragging, but I was a pretty good shot. Anyway, the two snipers were eliminated.”

Afterward, Childers crawled behind a second enemy position where both sides exchanged fire to no avail.

“Thank God he didn’t qualify on the range,” Childers recalled. “We exchanged a few shots but neither of us hit each other. I could see the tops of their helmets.”

Childers hurled a rock, which the two Germans believed was a grenade, to expose them to direct fire.

“I thought if I hit one of them on the head, at least I’d give ’em a headache,” he said. “When the first one jumped out, I was ready for him. I think he was still airborne when I knocked him off.”

Childers moved his men further up the hill where he spotted an enemy mortar observer at nearby stone house, who appeared to be surrendering. Despite having no ammunition, Childers aimed his weapon at the German and directed one of his Soldiers to take him prisoner.

Chiders was evacuated to a hospital in North Africa. During his recovery, he was told to report to Lt. Gen. Jacob L. Devers, deputy commander of the Mediterranean Theater. Childers was shocked to find himself as the honored guest of an award ceremony.

“They put a medal around my neck and people came up and congratulated me,” he said in “The Rock of Anzio.” “I asked one guy, ‘What the hell is it?’ and he said, ‘It’s the Medal of Honor.’”

Childers remained in the Army after the war ended, and he retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1965.

On Oct. 19, 2001, Childers visited Fort Drum when the Range 1 Indoor Small Arms Weapons Training Facility was dedicated in his honor during a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Located on North Memorial Drive, the road name changed in 2008 to Iraqi Freedom Drive, in tribute to the 10th Mountain Division’s service and sacrifice during combat operations in Iraq.

Along with 14 lanes of fire, enhanced with a computer-operated target system, the indoor range features two classrooms, a weapons and ammunition vault, and maintenance shop. The facility expanded in later years to include inclement weather training and unit armorer training.

Childers, 87, died March 26, 2005, due to complications from a stroke and heart attack.

On Nov. 20, 2019, the facility was memorialized as the Lt. Col. Childers Inclement Weather Training Facility.

To view the 2019 rededication ceremony, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWj1KIX84e4.