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, Charles George enlisted in the United States Army. Beginning his military service in March 1951, Charlie attended basic training at Ft. Jackson, SC, infantry training at Ft. Benning, GA, and advanced combat training in Japan before arriving in Korea in September 1951.
Assigned to Company C, 179th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division, Charlie fought throughout the Korean peninsula. He spent more than a year in combat, advancing, retreating, and advancing again. By late 1952 the Korean War was limited to fighting over small portions of land. Troops from both sides would slog it out in savage combat and retreat to fortified positions.
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 is 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.
You can read more about Charles George, see photos of him, his family, and his beloved home land, 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.
Randy McCracken is a U.S. Army Veteran, former medic, computer specialist, and now My HealtheVet Coordinator for the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville, NC.