CRAWFORDSVILLE, Ind. - Born and raised in west central Indiana, Don Childress is an honored World War II pilot. He flew a legendary plane on dangerous missions and on one of the most important days in the history of the war.
Don Childress and his oldest son, John, share their story at American Senior Communities Ben Hur Health and Rehabilitation in Crawfordsville.
Childress enlisted in the Army in 1942 and went right into flight school, training to fly the flying fortresses: the legendary B-17 bomber.
John says that alone is admirable.
“My dad's not a real big guy, but flew a 41,000-pound machine with four engines on it,” said John.
Two years later, in 1944, Childress got his wings and was stationed at an Allied Airbase northeast of war-torn London.
He flew 49 missions over France and Germany, but didn’t drop a single bomb. Instead, Childress dropped leaflets telling citizens to seek out the Allies for food and shelter.
“Bring the leaflet with you. It had a flag on the back. We’ll treat you well and feed you, so it apparently worked,” described John.
Childress was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism on more than one occasion.
“It was an accumulation of a number of pretty hairy missions. Probably the most important one was the day before D-Day, June 5, 1944, which is his birthday,” John explained.
Childress was spreading the news to the Nazis that the Allies were coming.
“He flew over and dropped leaflets behind the German line saying, 'We’re on the way, now’s your chance to give up, you know the war’s over for you boys,'" said John.
It was a mission that John believes saved hundreds if not thousands of lives on both sides of the war.
John says when the war was over, his father returned to Indiana to farm with his wife and raise a family. His father’s innovative mind flourished while working in agriculture.
“He was really a pioneer in grain storage, grain handling and the grain drying business,” explained John.
He says his father is a war hero, a hero for Indiana agriculture and a great man.
“He’s the smartest guy I ever met. He’s the toughest guy I ever met.”
Childress turns 98 June 5.