The Thunderbirds were federalized for service with the United States Army on September 16, 1941 as it looked more and more likely that the United States would be swept up into World War II. The division deployed overseas for combat in June 1943. They participated in the Allied invasion of Sicily, and then landed on the Italian mainland on September 10, 1943.
Twelve days later, Ernest Childers, now a Second Lieutenant and a platoon leader, embodied the 45th's motto of Semper Anticus - "Always Forward" - when he placed himself repeatedly at risk and at the front of his soldiers as they drove tenaciously against enemy positions, and thereby entered the ranks of our Nation's greatest heroes.
From Medal of Honor Citations from World War II (A-F):
|Ernest Childers receives the Medal of Honor from|
Lieutenant General Jacob L. Devers, April 23, 1944
Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army, 45th Infantry Division
Place and date: At Oliveto, Italy, 22 September 1943
Entered service at: Tulsa, Okla.
G.O. No.: 30, 8 April 1944
Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty in action on 22 September 1943, at Oliveto, Italy. Although 2d Lt. Childers previously had just suffered a fractured instep he, with 8 enlisted men, advanced up a hill toward enemy machinegun nests. The group advanced to a rock wall overlooking a cornfield and 2d Lt. Childers ordered a base of fire laid across the field so that he could advance. When he was fired upon by 2 enemy snipers from a nearby house he killed both of them. He moved behind the machine gun nests and killed all occupants of the nearer one. He continued toward the second one and threw rocks into it. When the 2 occupants of the nest raised up, he shot 1. The other was killed by 1 of the 8 enlisted men. 2d Lt. Childers continued his advance toward a house farther up the hill, and single-handed, captured an enemy mortar observer. The exceptional leadership, initiative, calmness under fire, and conspicuous gallantry displayed by 2d Lt. Childers were an inspiration to his men.
Lieutenant Childers was the first Native American recipient of the Medal of Honor during World War II, and the first since the 19th century.
Childers continued serving in the Army after the war. He retired from active service in 1966 holding the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Childers passed away at age 87 on March 17, 2005 and rests in peace at the Floral Havens Memorial Gardens in his hometown of Broken Arrow.
One of the middle schools in Broken Arrow is named for Childers, as is a Veterans Health Administration outpatient clinic in Tulsa. The 45th Infantry Division was deactivated as a National Guard formation in 1968. The present day 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team carries on the legacy of the "Thunderbirds". This integrated combat force of the Oklahoma Army National Guard recently deployed under federal service for combat in Afghanistan during 2011 and 2012. The brigade lost fourteen soldiers to enemy action while deployed.
Sincere thanks to all the citizen-soldiers of the National Guard who protect us in both state and federal service, and to the families who lend us their loved ones when they are needed.