Published On: Sat, Sep 24th, 2016

Statue honoring Charles George unveiled in Asheville

AMERICAN HERO: A life-size statue of PFC Charles George, an EBCI tribal member and Medal of Honor recipient, was unveiled at the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville on Saturday, Sept. 24. (SCOTT MCKIE B.P./One Feather)

AMERICAN HERO: A life-size statue of PFC Charles George, an EBCI tribal member and Medal of Honor recipient, was unveiled at the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville on Saturday, Sept. 24. (SCOTT MCKIE B.P./One Feather)

 

By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.

ONE FEATHER STAFF

 

ASHEVILLE – James Spratt had a dream to sculpt an American hero.  He fulfilled his dream.  Spratt, a U.S. Navy veteran and long-time patient at the Charles George VA Medical Center (CGVAMC), was the sculptor on a project to immortalize PFC Charles George, an EBCI tribal member and Medal of Honor Recipient.

That project came to fruition as the life-size statue of PFC George was unveiled at the Center named in his honor on Saturday, Sept. 24 – sadly, the same day that Spratt passed away after a long, courageous fight with cancer.

“What a privilege is it to honor a true American hero in such a memorable way,” said Cynthia Breyfogle, CGVAMC director.  “I was both thrilled and humbled when I first heard that we would receive this statue.  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.”

PFC George, one of only 28 American Indians to receive the Medal of Honor, threw himself on an enemy grenade, saving his comrades at the expense of his own life on Nov. 29, 1952 near Songnae-dong, Korea.

Warren Dupree, Steve Youngdeer American Legion Post 143, was a member of the Charles George Memorial Fund Project Committee.  On Saturday, he had the duty of informing the crowd that Spratt had passed away at his hospice care facility moments before the unveiling ceremony was to begin.

Dupree told of Spratt’s vision to create a Charles George statue and told of their journey to get it to fruition.  “He wanted to thank the namesake of this true hero for the wonderful treatment he received while he was here – the kindness, the care…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.  He wanted to give back, and this was his way of paying back to the veterans of the United States Armed Forces and the staff and members of this facility.”

PROUD NIECE: With Cynthia Breyfogle (right), Charles George VA Medical Center director, looking on, Patty Buchanan, George’s niece, touches the Medal of Honor medal on the bronze statue. (SCOTT MCKIE B.P./One Feather)

PROUD NIECE: With Cynthia Breyfogle (right), Charles George VA Medical Center director, looking on, Patty Buchanan, George’s niece, touches the Medal of Honor medal on the bronze statue. (SCOTT MCKIE B.P./One Feather)

Principal Chief Patrick Lambert spoke during Saturday’s event and praised Spratt for his artistic vision and his heart.  “He created this clay model, his last act of artistry for all the world to behold. James faced his own battles, and even through his sickness, he did this in a selfless and honorable fashion.”

Chief Lambert went on to speak of selflessness and leadership – qualities he said were possessed by both PFC Charles George and Spratt.  “All people in all communities should come to learn what these values mean and also strive to practice these traits that these two men, Mr. James Spratt and Mr. Charles George, have so clearly demonstrated.”

He added, “Being brave isn’t hard.  It’s about doing the right thing at the right time regardless of the consequences, and that’s exactly what Charles George did.  Because with every choice, there is a consequence, and when the choice was made by Charles George, he inspired many, including me, to fulfill the values he exhibited of love, hope, and duty.  He is a great hero.”

Director Breyfogle was joined in unveiling the statue by Chief Lambert and several members of PFC George’s family including his niece, Patty Buchanan, and his nephew, Kevin George.

In honor of PFC George and the pride he held in his Cherokee heritage, many EBCI tribal members were featured throughout the program.  Singers from the New Kituwah Academy opened the program with the “Cherokee Morning Song”.  Then, the Steve Youngdeer American Legion Post 143 Color Guard presented the colors for the day after which Miss Cherokee Taran Swimmer sang the “Cherokee National Anthem”.

EBCI Beloved Man Jerry Wolfe, a World War II Navy veteran, gave the opening prayer, and EBCI Beloved Woman Myrtle Driver gave the closing prayer.

Members of the Warriors of Anikituwah helped open the program, and then performed an Honor Dance for PFC George immediately following the unveiling.

A second statue has been fired and will be unveiled in Cherokee on Friday, Nov. 11 at the Cherokee Veterans Park adjacent to the Cherokee Tribal Council House.

To view or purchase photos from this event, visit: https://onefeather.smugmug.com/COMMUNITY-and-NEWS-EVENTS/2016-Community-and-News-Events/PFC-Charles-George-Statue/

 

Pfc. Charles George, Full-blooded Cherokee and Medal of Honor recipient (Archive photo)

Pfc. Charles George, Full-blooded Cherokee and Medal of Honor recipient (Archive photo)

Following is the full Medal of Honor citation for PFC George:

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.