Veterans’ Program

The Charles George VA Medical Center – Asheville, NC

Charles George VA Medical Center - Asheville, NC

HWC Veterans’ Outreach Program
Starting in 1917,  members of the Hendersonville Woman’s Club have been honored to host homemade dinners, BBQ’s, bingo parties and special events at the VA Hospital in Asheville, NC.  
Today, we need a chairwoman for this program!  Our membership numbers are currently low as we build and develop into a 21st Century woman’s club.  “Change” can be unsettling and requires patience and time.
All of us feel privileged to participate in this special program and we invite like-minded women to contact us so that we might join our efforts and re-create a wonderful Veterans’ Program for our country’s most deserving.

The Quiet Warrior from Birdtown & Why We Renamed Our VA Hospital in His Honor 

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.

Charles George was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian.  Extremely patriotic, the Eastern Band of Cherokee have a long tradition of US military service. During the first World War, every able-bodied man from the Eastern Band served his country – a country that had yet to allow them to vote. When the United States entered World War II, Eastern Band Cherokees volunteered again. While only a couple of thousand Cherokee lived on the Boundary during the 1940s, hundreds of men and women left the Qualla to serve their county. When the Korean War raged, it was natural for Charles George to follow the warrior tradition of his people.

His parents never learned English and had never ventured beyond the Qualla Boundary until they received an invitation from the President of the United States to travel to Washington, DC and receive The Medal of Honor on their son’s behalf. They journeyed into an unknown land where people spoke a language they could not understand to receive the honor for their fallen son. PFC George’s father, Jacob did not know the history and traditional reverence for the United States Medal of Honor. Instead of placing it under glass and tucking it away in a corner of his home, Jacob would often carry 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 Charlie. People would visit the George home, and Jacob would show them the medal and let people hold it. With honor, grief and pride, Jacob would often wear the medal at gatherings and celebrations. Beyond his family, and beyond the Bird Clan, Charles 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 of course the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville, which serves over 37,000 veterans in Western North Carolina.

Had it not been for the Korean War, Charles George may have lived a long life in the Appalachian mountains. However, in 1950 his country went to war, and Charlie (Tsali) left Birdtown in order to take the warrior’s path. He volunteered for duty knowing that he might be required to kill or die in order to protect his brothers. The men that Charles George saved were not Cherokee, they were not even from Western North Carolina, but Marion Santo and Armando Ruiz were Charlie’s brothers. Knowing his heritage,  knowing who he was named for, and being the type of person he was, the heroism of Charles George was a natural act, for he was always dedicated to others above self.

The Medal of Honor was awarded on March 18, 1954. The citation read:
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 November 30, 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.[1]

Medal of Honor U.S.Army.jpg

Asheville has long been known as a health retreat, beginning first with American Indians who set this region aside as a place to bring their sick and ailing.


Oteen Veteran’s Administration Hospital 

Photo courtesy of City Development, City of Asheville, North Carolina

Some History of the VA Hospital in Asheville, NC

Frame Colonial Revival and stucco Georgian Revival buildings were built for the Oteen Veteran’s Administration Hospital from 1924 to 1932, replacing the previous wooden hospital buildings. The Asheville Citizen’s-Times remarked on this construction with a headline on September 10, 1928, that read “Oteen Growing Beautiful with New Buildings.”

  • Dr. Z. P. Gruner opened the country’s first private sanitarium in Asheville in 1875. In 1918, US Army General Hospital No. 19 opened in Asheville to serve the soldiers in the area who were training for duty for the First World War.
  • When the U.S. Veterans’ Bureau was created three years later, the hospital became part of that system, and part of the Veterans’ Administration (VA) when it was organized and replaced the Bureau in 1930.
  • According to Colonel Henry Hoagland, he suggested the name Oteen as it was an American Indian word meaning “chief aim” and it was the chief aim of every patient to get well. The hospital’s primary focus was the treatment of tuberculosis, and it was the only VA hospital in the southeast devoted to the treatment of respiratory ailments.

A Brief History of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA)

Today’s Veterans Health Administration (VHA) originated during the Civil War as the first federal hospitals and domiciliaries ever established for the nation’s volunteer forces.   On March 3, 1865, a month before the Civil War ended, President Abraham Lincoln authorized the first-ever national soldiers’ and sailors’ asylum to provide medical and convalescent care for discharged members of the Union Army and Navy volunteer forces. The asylum was the first of its kind in the world.  Two early soldiers’ homes were very small and housed up to 300 men. They provided medical care and long-term housing for thousands of Civil War veterans.  The national homes were often called “soldiers’ homes” or “military homes.” Initially only soldiers and sailors who served with the Union forces — including U.S. Colored Troops — were eligible for admittance. The first National Home opened near Augusta, Maine on November 1, 1866.  Many programs and processes begun at the national homes continue at VHA today. They were the first to accept women Veterans for medical care and hospitalization beginning in 1923.  By 1929, the national homes had grown to 11 institutions that spanned the country. All of the national homes have operated continuously since they opened.