A War Hero’s Artifact Legacy
This contribution is by Randy McCracken, Communications Specialist at the Charles George VA Medical Center. (Much of this material appeared previously in the October 2011 issue of Carolina Comments.)
A few steps within the main entrance to the VA Medical Center in Asheville, NC you see a couple of flags, a few words printed and framed, and a black and white photograph of a young man in uniform. Hundreds of people walk past this wall every day; few stop to notice the flags are from the 45th Infantry Division and the Eastern Band of the Cherokee. The young soldier in the photo is Charles George, and the words describe an unimaginable act of courage.
The fifth child of Mr. and Mrs. Jacob George, Charles George was born in Cherokee, NC on August 23, 1932. A full-blooded Cherokee and member of the Bird Clan, Charles George (Charlie) grew up alongside the Oconaluftee River with his family, living a simple mountain life. Charlie attended the Indian School in the Qualla Boundary of Western North Carolina, and he spent most of his free time hunting and fishing. He was a quiet young man, a good shot with his rifle, and generous to anyone he met. Charlie would offer anything that he had hunted or caught to passersby, be they a member of his Clan, a fellow Cherokee, or someone from outside the Nation.
If not for the Korean War, Charles George might have lived a long, simple, unremarkable life in the Appalachian Mountains. However, in 1950 his country went to war, and at age 18, he enlisted in the United States Army. Assigned to Company C, 179th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division, Charlie fought throughout the Korean peninsula. In mid-November 1952 Company C received orders to launch another assault in order to take a hill and capture an enemy soldier for interrogation. It’s unknown how many times Charlie had gone on missions to engage the enemy; however, that night was different. That night Charles George displayed conspicuous gallantry and outstanding courage above and beyond the call of duty by giving his life to defend his nation, complete his mission, and save his friends.
Charles George’s parents never learned English, and had never ventured beyond the Qualla Boundary until they traveled to New York to receive their son’s Medal of Honor in 1954. Afterwards, his father carried the medal in his pocket wrapped in a handkerchief. There was no need to put it away on a shelf, because the metal and ribbon connected him to his son. With honor, grief, and pride, Jacob George often wore the medal at gatherings and celebrations. Eventually, Charles’ younger brother Alfred inherited the medal and donated it to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, Swain County.
You can learn more about Charles George, read his Medal of Honor Citation, and watch videos of ceremonies honoring this man at the Charles George VAMC Web site . And if you are ever in the lobby of the Charles George VA Medical Center, please take a moment to stop at the wall honoring the man for whom the facility was named, and pay your respects to this quiet warrior from Birdtown.
Posted on November 9, 2011, in collections access, guest bloggers and tagged Charles George, Charles George VA Medical Center, Jacob George, Jay Coble, Museum of the Cherokee, Randy McCracken. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.