For a better future, study the past.

Charles George: Korean War Native American Medal of Honor Recipient

Tsali “Charles” George was born August 23, 1932 in Cherokee, North Carolina as a member of
the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Tribe. Charlie, as he was known, attended the Indian School
on the Qualla Boundary of Western North Carolina and spent much of his early life near the
Oconaluftee River.

Charles George
Charles George
Image Courtesy North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources

At age 18, with the Korean War in full force, Charlie joined the United States Army in  Whittier, North Carolina, attaining the rank of Private First Class. He served in Company C of the 179th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division.

In November 1952, PFC George gave his life in order to protect that of fellow soldiers, Armando Ruiz and Marion Santo, who along with George were helping lead an assault to try to capture a prisoner for interrogation, just north of Seoul during the Battle of Songnae-dong. Having succeeded in their mission George, Ruiz, and Santo were ordered to provide cover as the Company retired.

The Chinese were continuing to fight and a grenade landed near the three young men. George pushed Santo away before falling on the live grenade in order to prevent injury and possible death to others. Despite his life threatening injuries George did not utter a sound. To do so would have betrayed their location to the Chinese.

Ruiz and Santo bravely carried the dying George to the nearest aid station but the wounds were too severe and the heroic young Cherokee passed. Both Armando Ruiz and Marion Santo survived the war, returning to the States and leading as normal a life as possible having witnessed the ultimate horror of war.

The body of Charles George was returned to Cherokee County where he was interred in Yellow
Hill Cemetery. You may view an online memorial to PFC George here.

PFC George’s heroics were recognized quickly and in March 1954, George’s parents were
invited to Washington D.C. in order to receive the Medal of Honor being awarded posthumously
to their son. In the following years, Charlies father, Jacob, was known to carry the Medal with
him, keeping this piece of his son close to him at all times.

In recent years, further honors have been bestowed upon the memory of PFC Charlie George.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Asheville, NC was renamed the Charles
George Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in 2017 after approval by both the
United States House of Representatives and the Senate.

The bridge crossing the Oconaluftee River in the Yellowhill Community was dedicated as the
Charles George Bridge on January 23, 2014.

Charles George Monument
The Charles George Monument located in the Cherokee Veterans Park. An identical monument sits at the VA Center named in his honor.

On September 24, 2016, a life-sized statue of George, sculpted by artists James Spratt, was unveiled at the Charles George VA Medical Center. Center Director Cynthia Breyfogle stated, “The legacy of Charles George was, and still is, an inspiration and influence beyond his local community. His courage and example join those of other brave men and women, past and present, who have answered the call when their country needed them.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Spratt did not live to see the unveiling. He passed away the day of the unveiling while under hospice care. Warren Dupree of the American Legion Post 143 said a few words on behalf of Spratt, “…he wanted to thank the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Charles George Memorial Project Committee for their kindness in helping him make his dream come true.”

On November 11, 2016, an identical sculpture to the one located at the VA Center was unveiled in a moving ceremony at the refurbished Cherokee Veterans Park.

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian opened an exhibit in George’s honor on Memorial Day, May 28, 2018. The impressive displays included a bronze bust of George, the flag that draped his coffin, his numerous military medals including his Medal of Honor, and a copy of the text of his Medal of Honor citation. You may read this citation below.

Citation:

Pfc. George, a member of Company C, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and
outstanding courage above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy on the night
of 30 November 1952. He was a member of a raiding party committed to engage the enemy and
capture a prisoner for interrogation. Forging up the rugged slope of the key terrain feature, the
group was subjected to intense mortar and machine-gun fire and suffered several casualties.
Throughout the advance, he fought valiantly and, upon reaching the crest of the hill, leaped into
the trenches and closed with the enemy in hand-to-hand combat. When friendly troops were
ordered to move back upon completion of the assignment, he and two comrades remained to
cover the withdrawal. While in the process of leaving the trenches a hostile soldier hurled a
grenade into their midst. Pfc. George shouted a warning to one comrade, pushed the other
soldier out of danger, and, with full knowledge of the consequences, unhesitatingly threw himself
upon the grenade, absorbing the full blast of the explosion. Although seriously wounded in this
display of valor, he refrained from any outcry which would divulge the position of his
companions. The two soldiers evacuated him to the forward aid station and shortly thereafter he
succumbed to his wound. Pfc. George’s indomitable courage, consummate devotion to duty, and
willing self-sacrifice reflect the highest credit upon himself and uphold the finest traditions of the
military service.

Sources:

https://asheville.va.gov/
https://www.cmohs.org/recipients/charles-george                                                                 https://www.ncdcr.gov/blog/2014/11/30/cherokee-charles-george-korean-war-medal-of-honor-recipient  https://www.theonefeather.com

To learn more about the Medal of Honor I recommend Medal of Honor, Revised & Updated Third Edition: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty  

 

 

 

 

 

To learn more about the Cherokee Indian Nation I recommend Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation.

 

 

 

 

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