Charles George was born in the Birdtown community of Cherokee, North Carolina 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.
At age 18 and with the Korean War raging, 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 spent over a year fighting in the Korean War.
On November 30, 1952 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.
Shortly before shipping off to join 45th Infantry Division in Korea, Charles George made one last stop at the Cherokee school in the Qualla Boundary. He talked with the children about serving their country, serving their people and staying true to the Cherokee warrior tradition. The words he spoke echoed those of his elders, words that embody the beliefs of his people. At 20 years old he was more than a new recruit volunteering for combat in Korea; he was a warrior following in the footsteps of his ancestors, going into combat to protect his people.
Like all Native Americans, the Eastern Band Cherokee have a complicated history with the United States Government, riddled with betrayal and broken promises. Separated from most of their tribe who live in Oklahoma, the Eastern Band remain in a small portion of their ancestral lands deep within the cool, lush mountains of Western North Carolina. While fiercely loyal to the United States, the Cherokee preserve and honor their language and customs on land they have loved for hundreds of years. It may be a new government, but theirs is an old Nation In 1952, the war was in Korea and the political goal was to stop communist expansion in Asia. However, for Charles George, the fight was to protect his country, people and his beloved mountains.
George is remembered and honored. His legacy is an integral part of the Eastern Band community. Charles George is honored at the yearly Cherokee Fair, his 45th Infantry insignia is proudly displayed on the American Legion Post 143 uniform, and his story is taught in Cherokee schools. Named in his honor are a bridge, a school gymnasium, a US Army camp in Korea, and most notably is the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville, which serves over 37,000 veterans in Western North Carolina.
On May 24, 2007 Congressman Health Shuler introduced legislation (H.R. 2546), to rename the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Asheville, North Carolina, the Charles George Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The legislation passed with unanimous consent from both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President George Bush on November 15, 2007.
Rank and organization: Private First Class, U.S. Army, Company C, 179th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division.
Place and date: Near Songnae-dong, Korea, 30 November 1952.
Entered service at: Whittier, N.C.
Born: 23 August 1932, Cherokee, N.C.
G.O. NO.: 19, 18 March 1954.
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 2 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 1 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 2 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.
On October 8, 2011, the Steve Youngdeer American Legion Post 143 conducted a memorial service for PFC Charles George. Photos from this event are available on our facebook page located here. (This gallery is publically available and does not require a facebook account.)
Taps for Charles George