Remembering 3 Brave Medal Of Honor Recipients
Hometown heroes Albert Schwab, Ernest Childers and Donald Sloat served their country honorably.
About the Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force that can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States. It is generally presented to its recipient by the president in the name of Congress.
On July 12, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill creating the Medal of Honor. At that time, 88 soldiers had already performed heroic actions that would earn them the Medal of Honor. The earliest action that garnered a recognition was by Army Surgeon Bernard J.D. Irwin who over Feb. 13-14, 1861, in present-day Arizona, voluntarily led a command of troops to relieve a surrounded detachment of the 7th Infantry. He was awarded the medal in 1894, 30 years after his deed. The first to wear the medal was Pvt. Jacob Parrott for his actions with others in the “Great Locomotive Chase” in April 1862.
Of the 3,503 recipients, 72 are living, only one has been a woman and 19 are double recipients.
Source: Congressional Medal of Honor Society
Albert Schwab didn’t have to go to war.
The Central High School graduate was married, and had a young family and a good job working in the oil fields. By 1944, the tide of World War II was turning decisively in favor of the Allies against the Axis powers. And, though hard fighting still lay ahead, Schwab probably could have sat out the rest of the war.
But he didn’t.
Instead, in the spring of ’44, he volunteered for the Marine Corps with a friend named Tom Nickle, who would marry Albert’s sister, Katie.
George Nickle of Greenville, Kentucky, is Tom’s son and Albert’s nephew. A retired Navy and Marine Corps Chaplain, Nickle recalls the last time he saw his Uncle Albert.
“He and my dad came home on leave after boot camp in the summer of ’44,” Nickle says. “We had a family picnic at a park in Tulsa. I remember them carrying a watermelon in a washtub with ice.”
Of the two men, only Tom was destined to make it safely home.
Family lore suggests Albert was an athletic young man with a cheerful disposition, zest for life and a bit of daredevil in him. According to Nickle, Albert and some friends once created a homemade diving helmet. Albert volunteered to put it on and jump into the Arkansas River.
“It didn’t work out too well for him. I think he nearly drowned,” Nickle says. “Those are the kind of stories Mom would tell me about her brother.”
Albert’s siblings adored their older brother, says another nephew, Tulsan Jim Carlson. He is the son of Jo Ann Schwab, one of Albert’s younger sisters.
“Albert was my mom’s hero even before he went off to war,” says Carlson, the owner of Carlson Co., a manufacturer of steel flanges for the oil and gas industry, where he keeps pictures of his uncle on display.
As American forces advanced across the Pacific, Japanese resistance became fanatical, with most soldiers choosing to fight to the death rather than surrender.
The savage combat reached a bloody climax in the spring of 1945 when U.S. forces invaded Okinawa, a battle that claimed the lives of more than 12,000 U.S. servicemen, about 90,000 Japanese combatants and up to 150,000 civilians, according to the National World War II Museum. It was into this maelstrom that Pfc. Albert Schwab was thrown in May 1945.
As one of the bigger men in H (Headquarters) Company, Schwab carried a flamethrower, a bulky, 75-pound weapon that was used to clear bunkers and caves of last-ditch holdouts. On May 7, 1945, Schwab’s unit was pinned down by enemy machine-gun fire. Unable to outflank the enemy due to terrain and with his comrades taking heavy casualties, Schwab charged uphill by himself against heavy fire, unleashing streams of fire that wiped out multiple enemy positions.
During the fight, Schwab took a fatal bullet wound to his left hip.
“He was a hero,” Nickle says. “But he was also a Marine, and Marines are taught to achieve an objective and carry out their mission. Part of what he was doing that day was his job. It cost him his life, but he helped achieve the objective.”
For his gallantry, Schwab received the Medal of Honor, presented posthumously on Memorial Day 1946 at Veterans Park (formerly Boulder Park) in Tulsa.
Part of his Medal of Honor citation reads: “Cool and indomitable, he moved forward in the face of a direct concentration of hostile fire, relentlessly closed the enemy position and attacked.”
His name lives on at Camp Schwab, a Marine base in Okinawa, as well as here in Tulsa where the local Marine Corps League Detachment is named after him. In 2011, the Marine Corps League spearheaded, with family support, the creation of a sculpture of Schwab that was placed in the central hall at Tulsa International Airport, now officially called Albert E. Schwab Hall.
The statue isn’t of Schwab alone. Rather, it shows him embracing his younger sister, Jo Ann, (Carlson’s mother) in a bittersweet farewell, recalling the brief furlough before he shipped out to his fate in the Pacific. Though in failing health, Jo Ann lived long enough to see a dream fulfilled — her brother honored with a sculpture. When the curtain dropped at the dedication ceremony, something remarkable happened.
“She rose out of her wheelchair and walked toward the statue and stared at it,” Carlson recounts. “She was clearly moved. It was her brother.”
Schwab remains Tulsa’s only Medal of Honor recipient.
Service Branch: Marine Corps
Conflict: WWII, Pacific Theater, Okinawa
Medal of Honor Received: For action on May 7, 1945
Named in his honor: Albert E. Schwab Hall at Tulsa International Airport; Camp Schwab Okinawa
Citation Excerpt: His aggressive initiative, outstanding valor and professional skill throughout the bitter conflict sustain and enhance the highest traditions of U.S. Naval Service.
Heroes, hunters and athletes often display their trophies for all to see and admire.
Ernest Childers did not.
A Medal of Honor recipient, Childers kept the nation’s highest military honor tucked away in a drawer in his Broken Arrow home.
“The medal never came out — ever,” says his daughter, Elaine Childers, a retired special education teacher. “It was not a topic of conversation.”
And for decades after World War II, Childers’ actions on the battlefield would remain a closed subject, not uncommon for soldiers of that, or perhaps any, era.
Childers was an honest, humble, hard-working man who grew up poor on a subsistence farm. A boy of Creek Indian heritage, he shot squirrels and other critters to help feed his family.
“He had a .22 rifle with one bullet, and he had to go out on Thanksgiving to get a rabbit for his family,” says Elaine, recounting a family tale. “He saw a couple of rabbits and wanted to get both, so he positioned himself to hit them with a single shot, and he did and that’s what they had for Thanksgiving. He really perfected his marksmanship as a kid, and that served him well later on.”
As a young man prior to the war, Childers joined the Oklahoma National Guard to earn extra money. After the U.S. entered the conflict, he became part of the famed 45th Infantry Division. His unit saw action in North Africa and Sicily before landing in Italy.
It was on Sept. 22, 1943, that then 2nd Lt. Childers distinguished himself in combat on the rugged countryside around Oliveto, Italy. The Germans were firing down on Childers’ men from the hill above, inflicting heavy casualties.
“He was seeing his friends, men he knew well, getting killed,” Elaine Childers says. “It made him angry.”
It was that anger that motivated Childers, in spite of a fractured instep, to singlehandedly advance himself uphill to engage the Germans. Childers first eliminated two enemy snipers in a nearby farmhouse and then crawled up to an enemy machine gun nest, wiping out its occupants. Still under fire and nearly out of ammo, he tossed a rock at a second German machine gun nest. Thinking it was a grenade, the Germans jumped out and exposed themselves to deadly fire. Continuing his assault, Childers then captured an enemy mortar observer, who had helped rain death on his comrades. Part of the Medal of Honor citation reads:
“The exceptional leadership, initiative, calmness under fire and conspicuous gallantry displayed by 2nd Lt. Childers were an inspiration to his men.”
For his actions that day, Childers became the first Native American to receive the Medal of Honor during WWII in the European Theater.
Childers received numerous other citations stemming from his actions during the war, and he continued his distinguished military career before retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1965. It wasn’t until after his military retirement, during a return trip to the site of the action in Italy, that he finally began talking about his role in the war with friends and family.
“I believe that was when he laid those ghosts to rest,” Elaine Childers says. “After his return visit, it was like he let go and could talk about it.”
However, one thing never changed. He refused to glorify war and disliked war films that simply couldn’t depict the hell that war really is.
“To him, war was not romantic or fun,” Elaine says. “It was bloody, cold and wet. It was hunger and the horror of seeing your friends die.”
In his long lifetime, Childers became a Broken Arrow hometown legend. In the 1970s, he and his friend, Clarence G. Oliver Jr., helped to organize a Broken Arrow parade honoring America’s Medal of Honor recipients. Over 300 recipients attended.
Oliver, who served as Broken Arrow Schools superintendent for 18 years, saw to it in the 1980s that a new middle school was named after Childers. By the mid-1990s, a statue of Childers was erected in Veteran’s Park on Broken Arrow’s Main Street. Childers was reluctant about having a statue of him erected, and Oliver made five trips as an emissary to get Childers’ permission.
“He was just a humble, gracious man, but he finally agreed on a few conditions,” Oliver recounts. “One of the conditions was that he didn’t want to be depicted with a weapon and another was to make sure the pigeon droppings would be cleaned off.”
Broken Arrow continues to remember Childers with a display in the Broken Arrow Museum. And that medal that once resided in a drawer? It is now displayed at First National Bank in Broken Arrow.
“Daddy was such a dignified, honorable man,” Elaine Childers adds. “He had a love of this country that you could not believe.”
Service Branch: U.S. Army
Hometown: Broken Arrow
Conflict: WWII, European Theater, Italy
Medal of Honor Received: For gallantry in action on Sept. 22, 1943
Named in his honor: Ernest Childers Middle School, Broken Arrow; Ernest Childers VA Outpatient Clinic, Tulsa
Citation Excerpt: The exceptional leadership, initiative, calmness under fire, and conspicuous gallantry displayed by 2nd Lt. Childers were an inspiration to his men.
It took nearly 45 years for Army Specialist Four, Donald P. Sloat of Coweta, to receive the Medal of Honor for his self-sacrificing valor in Vietnam.
Somehow in the fog of war and its traumatic aftermath, Sloat’s actions that fateful January day in 1970 were lost in time.
But not forever.
His family had been told that Sloat stepped on a landmine. However, decades later, a relative came across an alternative account of Sloat’s death that sparked a quest to find the truth.
That quest was led by Sloat’s late mother, Evelyn, who was determined to see her son properly honored for his service and sacrifice. With help from determined members of Sloat’s former unit and others, the story of what happened was painstakingly pieced together and three eyewitnesses to Sloat’s heroism were tracked down.
Sloat was just another young man who chose to serve, enlisting in the Army in 1969. He probably didn’t have to at that point as he was a student at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College. But he came from Coweta, a patriotic town of 2,500 that had seen more than its share of heartache from the Vietnam War. Several young Coweta men died in Vietnam, including three others from Sloat’s high school class of ’67.
Ultimately, Coweta would suffer perhaps more than any other small-town community in the U.S., losing a total of eight men, including Sloat, to the war.
Cowetan Dee Wilson, a two-tour Vietnam veteran and officer in the Coweta American Legion Post 226, says the young men of that era, like Sloat, wanted to serve their country.
“Coweta was a small, very patriotic town,” Wilson says. “We all wanted to serve and do our part. We were raised to serve and to love our country.”
Though a few years older, Wilson attended school with Sloat and remembers a robust, likeable and athletic young man. “He was a big boy, strong and in good shape. I played sports with him. He was very outgoing.”
Sloat went on to college and played football there. But a couple years in, he felt the call of his country. He and a classmate signed up for the Army … and Vietnam.
By all accounts, Sloat excelled as a machine-gunner. Before his final action, he already had been awarded the Bronze Star for valor along with other commendations.
However, it was what he did on Jan. 17, 1970, that made him an American hero for all time. As his unit moved through the area, they came under fire; a soldier near Sloat tripped a booby trap and a grenade came rolling downhill. Quickly, Sloat picked up the grenade with the intent of throwing it but realized he was surrounded by comrades. To throw the grenade would likely mean killing his fellow soldiers. Instead, Sloat pulled the grenade into his torso and doubled himself over as it exploded.
“I was only 5 to 8 feet behind Don when the grenade went off. His act saved my life.” Those were the words of Pfc. DeWayne Lewis Jr., who was on patrol with Sloat and one of the three required witnesses to Sloat’s heroic act.
No other soldiers were killed by the explosion, thanks to Sloat.
“I’m proud to be his sister,” says Kathy Ahlstrom, who was 5 when he died. Her lasting memory of her much older brother is of him carrying her around on his shoulders, which he did the day he left for Vietnam. “To do what he did, without hesitation, to save the lives of the men in his platoon speaks volumes about the kind of man he was.”
Even today, Sloat’s other sister Karen McCaslin is emotional recalling the day the family received the news of Sloat’s death. She was in fifth grade when her older brother Bill came to pick her up at school. “They got me out of class, and I thought maybe he was coming home,” McCaslin says. “I remember Bill turning around to tell us that Don had died.”
Sloat received posthumously, nearly 45 years later and after extensive effort and research, the Medal of Honor. In part, the citation reads: “Sloat’s actions define the ultimate sacrifice of laying down his own life in order to save the lives of comrades. … Sloat’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service.”
On Sept. 15, 2014, President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor to Sloat’s older brother. His mother died in 2011, but lived long enough to know the real circumstances of his death, and to know that her son gave his life to save others.
In 2017, Coweta’s middle school was renamed in Sloat’s honor. The young men and women who pass through those halls can now pause to see his memorabilia there and know they follow in the footsteps of heroes.
Service Branch: U.S. Army
Medal of Honor Received: For heroism in action on Jan. 17, 1970
Named in his honor: Donald P. Sloat Junior High School, Coweta
Citation Excerpt: Sloat distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.