Ξ November 10th, 2008 | → 1 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time |
Vinous matters can wait. Today Donna, a writer for this blog, and I would like to take a moment to reflect on the 90th Anniversary of Armistice Day.
Donna first. She provides a biography of her father, Ernest B. Childers, awarded the Medal of Honor. She closes with a personal remembrance.
Ernest B. Childers was born Feb. 1, 1918 in Broken Arrow, Okla. He was raised on a farm that was part of his father’s original Muscogee (Creek) Nation tribal allotment. He was the third of five sons and learned to be quite a marksman from his father, who was considered a great hunter. After his father’s death, Childers was responsible for feeding the family during the Depression years. His mother gave him one .22-caliber cartridge every day to kill a rabbit for dinner. He told a Tulsa reporter in 2002 that he learned how to be a very good aim, because if he missed, the family didn’t eat.
Childers graduated from Chilocco Indian School where he boxed and learned mechanics. He joined the Oklahoma National Guard while at the school in 1937 to earn extra money. After completing basic training at Ft. Sill, Okla., his unit, part of the 45th Infantry Division, was activated and deployed to Africa during World War II.
By the time he arrived on the beaches of Salerno, Italy in September 1943, Childers, a first lieutenant now, learned many soldiers in his division, including his school friends, were pinned down by machine-gun fire in the mountainous terrain near Oliveto. On Sept. 22, he organized a group of eight soldiers to clear the way so his division could advance. In the pre-dawn hours, 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 his friends perished.
“I crawled back and told my men to lay down a base of fire over me,” Childers told a Washington Post reporter in 2005. “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 Childers, he was quicker and shot them dead. From his position, he saw a second nest and pitched rocks to make them turn around for a clearer shot. The Germans thinking the rocks were grenades jumped out of the machine gun nests and when they leapt out, he shot the first one and another was shot by one of the soldiers covering Childers as he crawled up the hill. “I assume they thought it was a hand grenade, because nobody throws rocks,” he said.
According to his Medal of Honor citation, Childers single-handedly captured an enemy mortar observer at a house further up the hill.
“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,” said Childers. He then yelled to one of his men to take him prisoner because he was out of ammunition. “My body 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 wounds in North Africa, he fought at the Battle of Anzio, where he was wounded again. While recovering in a military hospital in Naples, he received word Lt. General Devers wanted to see him. Childers panicked because he wondered why a general would want to see him. General Devers presented Ernest, now a second lieutenant, the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest award. Childers always reported it was just a small ceremony at a horsetrack and it was only discovered recently after he passed away, the ceremony was a huge military parade with both American divisions and the British 8th Army attending. He later came to Washington, D.C. to meet with President Franklin D. Roosevelt while on bond tour. After his bond tour he returned to France to continue to fight through the end of the war.
Childers remained in the Army after the war and was stationed in Austria during the occupation. He taught jungle training in Panama and winter training in Alaska before retiring in 1965 as a lieutenant colonel.
He worked briefly with the Job Corps program in Washington, D.C, but that ended after he suffered a heart attack. When he retuned to Oklahoma, he began speaking to students about the emotional costs of war.
After the September 11, 2001 terrorists’ attacks, he wrote a widely circulated statement condemning vigilante attacks on Arab Americans.
“Even though I have darker skin than some Americans, that doesn’t mean I’m any less patriotic than any other American. I am appalled that people who call themselves ‘Americans’ are attacking and killing other Americans simply because of their hair and skin color,” he said.
Childers was the recipient of 13 medals and bars, including the Medal of Honor, the Purple Heart and the Oklahoma Distinguished Service Cross. In addition, he was honored in 1966 by the Tulsa Chapter of the Council of American Indians as “Oklahoma’s Most Outstanding Indian” and, in 1985, the Ernest Childers Middle School was dedicated in Broken Arrow, Okla.
Childers died on March 17, 2005 after a long illness and is survived by his wife, Yolanda, of 59 years; three children, Elaine Childers of Tulsa, Donna Thirkell of Houston, and Ernie Childers of Augusta, Ga.; and a brother.
How I know the Story
When Ernest Childers was a young boy, his father died of dust pneumonia as a result of the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s leaving his mother to take care of 5 young boys during the depression era. Tina raised geese on the farm to use their down to make feather beds to generate money to feed and clothe her children. At the farm, there was a large pond about 200 yards from main house created by the construction of a long sandstone as the Dust Bowl was raging and an above ground water source was a much needed luxury. The water created a habitat for wild animals ensuring a meat source for the families survival. Ernest was responsible for hunting the families meat source for the daily meal. He was given one bullet a day to get the evenings dinner. If he missed, the family would go hungry that night. This is where he learned to be a precise marksman.
The pond also brought predators his other job was to protect the flock of geese. It’s a simple job except geese are aggressive animals with sharp beaks and long sharp spurs on their wings. He hated those geese. His body was always covered in deep abrasions from their attacks, but those geese were integral to their survival and he had to make sure they were well taken care of. He told me how he used to creep into their pen as quietly as possible bringing their pail of grain to feed them and then slowly creep back out as not to get them riled up and attacking him. When the predators came around, the only way he could defend the geese was taking rocks and throwing them at predator’s heads to hurt or kill them.
I find it amazing how the years of caring for geese, defending against predators with rocks and hunting with only one bullet would give him the skills to crawl up a hill in great pain with a broken foot on September 22, 1943 in Oliveto, Italy. What is not detailed in the official citation is Dad only had limited rounds of ammunition in his rifle. As he pulled himself up the hill with his arms and one good foot, he didn’t simply throw rocks into the machine gun nests, but took a single rock each to hit the German soldier in the helmet so they would turn around and Dad could line up the shot. The Germans thought the rocks were grenades and jumped out of the nests allowing Dad to take them out single handedly.
The Admin writes
Many years ago I lived in Paris with my wife-to-be. When we first arrived in mid-November a chance meeting with a German nanny in the Gard du Nord sent us along the Clignancourt metro line to the heavily working class/immigrant 19th arrondissement. Just off the metro stop Colonel Fabien, near the grim Communist Party HQ, and not too far from where Edith Piaf was born on the steps of Rue de Belleville 72 (our first pilgrimage), we’d walk up the Rue des Chaufourniers to our cold water pension. The 6 storey building had all the romance of a cinder block. No heat, no hot water, and a shared toilet in the hall, just a sloped hole in the floor flushed by pulling a thick chain. The Hotel Modern was its name.
The French owners, an extended family of three generations, lived on the first floor. They ran a café frequented everyday by elderly regulars, most commonly their live-in pensioners, two of whom constantly argued. Both were veterans of World War 1. One aged gentleman was quite round, tall, he always wore a hat. He lower lip was a brown-stained groove where he tucked a smoldering Gitane Maïs (as a former smoker of French cigarettes, take it from me, these were the most harsh and unpleasant in all the world). Even when he spoke with great agitation the dark cigarette never moved. The other fellow was quite short with a beret. They began their mornings with a glass or two of a simple vin du table and ended the evening with Pernod. They lived one floor above us.
We were to find out days later that these two vets were in fact great friends, that their arguing began with our arrival at Hotel Modern! The heated exchange was over whether it had been necessary for the United States to enter WW1. The family/owners tried to intervene with humor, sans success.
Not to be outdone, one of the family, the aged matron Margarite, she regaled us with stories (well, the same one told many times) of her work during WW ll, of hiding Jews and resistance fighters in the Hotel, of holding off a smirking German patrol with an old carbine.
Their twenty-something son, on the other hand, wanted nothing more than to come to America and, as he explained with a poor accent, “lay on a Miami bitch”. He never did understand why my wife and I asked him so many times what he planned to do when visiting Miami’s shores. Need I add that he smoked wretched Stuyvesant Blondes?
I was reminded of these folks when I recently read about the passing of Lazare Ponticelli, France’s last Great War veteran. He was 110 years old. Please give it a look.
What follows are a just few bright sites I found to help us understand how we commemorate this day.
In the United States, Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day in 1954. The change was designed to include for public observance the sacrifice of America in all her wars, particularly in light of World War ll’s recent conclusion. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs runs a very informative site on the holiday. We lost over 115,000 souls in WW l.
The British Commonwealth knows it as Remembrance Day. It remains centered on WW l. The BBC has a wonderful online data base for families wishing to know more of their histories.
November 4th through the 11th Canada has an especially moving tribute to its 68,000 fallen in WW l. The names of the war dead will be “projected over a week of nights onto the National War Memorial in Ottawa, buildings in other regions of Canada and onto the side of Canada House in Trafalgar Square in London, England”.
In France and Belgium it is a national holiday. Celebrations in France, perhaps owing to a studied independence from the over-bearing authority emanating from Paris, are as numerous as they are varied in each of her departments. I will mention that in Compiègne, site of the signing of the Armistice, ceremonies will take place. (Compiègne is also known as the town where Joan of Arc was captured.)
From World War l alone, over 18,000,000 military and civilian deaths and 21,000,000 casualties are recorded. I have little more to add but a poem, In Flanders’ Fields by Lt.-Col. John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
To all veterans, thank you, thank you.
This November 11th I’ll be wearing a poppy.