But the memory that most stands out to this Murray County veteran is seeing Gen. George S. Patton. Patton was the commander of the Third Army in Europe, which historians credit with taking more prisoners and liberated more territory in less time than any other army in military history.
“We were near the Moselle River and were not out of artillery range (of the Germans), but Patton wanted to address the troops,” said Childers, 95, at his north Murray County home recently. “They were shelling us while Patton talked, while he was wearing those pearl-handled pistols. Patton said, ‘I’m going to Berlin if it takes two truckloads of dog tags (of dead U.S. soldiers) to get me there.’
“He was a wicked man, and cussed every other word.”
Doug Griffin of Chatsworth said he is a student of Patton, and got to know Childers when his daughter, Anne, married Childers’ son, Billy.
“I just started talking to him through the years, and all these things he’d been through in the war started coming up,” Griffin said. “I taught American history for awhile, so it gives me goose bumps just talking to him about the war. I’ve heard him say Patton was wicked, and I remember one of the quotes Patton is famous for making when he was talking to his troops: ‘You don't win a war by dying for your country. You win a war by making the other (guy) die for his.’”
A Murray County native, Childers said he was “born and raised on the (Conasauga) river” the son of a poor tenant farmer.
“The first job I had out of high school was sawmilling,” he said, noting his Class of 1936 at Murray County High was the school’s first graduating class. “I made 50 cents a day, then I heard you could make a dollar a day in the CCs (Civilian Conservation Corps).”
Childers said that daily dollar came at a high price — using a pick and shovel to build roads in mountainous Andrews, N.C.
Fighting through Europe
After being drafted into the Army after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Childers became a platoon sergeant and eventually embarked with the 80th Infantry Division out of New York City. They arrived off the coast of France on June 13, exactly one week after the June 6, 1944, Allied invasion
“The (English) Channel was a graveyard — we could see bodies floating everywhere,” he said. “After Cherbourg, we fought to the Moselle River and built bridges for Patton’s tanks to cross.”
Childers said his unit — 30 men bearing 75mm guns in an anti-tank platoon in the Third Battalion of the 318th Infantry Regiment — “really hit it” after fighting through Cherbourg.
“Our officers told us to be ready, and sure enough, the Germans overran us at 3 a.m. in the morning,” he recalled. “In my platoon, I could only account for three men out of the 30. We searched the river bottoms area and found that 20 men were accounted for out of the platoon. I reported the ones we couldn’t find as dead, wounded or missing. Later we learned that some were captured. After the war those guys sent me Christmas cards.”
Childers’ unit fought across France and into Germany and at one point they were told Berlin was just 70 miles away. At that point, as the war was winding down, his captain told him he could send one man home on leave and Childers had been chosen.
“I left my outfit there,” he said. “I had dug my foxhole under the shadow of a German plane at the end of a runway. The Germans had been waving white bedspreads to surrender. We had 1,000 German prisoners from Cherbourg on the ship, and while we were still seven days out of New York City we got the word on board ship that the war had ended. About that time a German sub(marine) surfaced. I’ll never forget the number on that sub — JU-88. He had been trailing our convoy and I guess they got the word too.”
After arriving home, Childers visited the home of his commanding officer in Hayesville, N.C., and the town of Sweetwater, Tenn., the home of his company’s executive officer who was killed in the fighting.
“I had worked that area (in Sweetwater) when I was with Ragland Brothers (grocers) before the war,” he said. “I went there again on business and by chance met Lt. Woods’ father in a store I was servicing. He said, ‘I wish I had known about you — I would have asked you to be a pallbearer.’ I never knew I would be going back to meet the parents of my ‘XO.’ I can remember things that happened like it was yesterday.”
Childers, who eventually bought land to farm and raise poultry after the war, married Elma Cavendar of Murphy, N.C. in 1945. When she died in 2009 they had been married 64 years. Gary Bailey, who married Childers’ daughter, Gwendolyn, said, “He’s a strong Christian man and a good father-in-law.”
Childers said he recalled studying European history in high school and then found himself fighting there.
“I got through the war without a scratch,” Childers said, then became emotional. “I got through it through the prayers of the people back home.”
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