When I worked in Congressman Gene Taylor’s Gulfport, Miss. district office, and helped out with veteran affairs casework, I came across a thick file in one of the cabinets about Roy Mitchell Wheat from Moselle, Mississippi. Taylor was working on naming a U.S. Naval ship after him. Wheat, a Marine and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was killed after hurling himself on an enemy mine to save others in Vietnam. You can read a little bit more about his story in a Memorial Day article I wrote in 2011.
It’s a good reminder of the cost of war.
I was drawn to his story recently because there are similarities between George and Wheat. Both were young country boys and were about the same age when they willingly gave up their life by smothering an enemy device with their body to save others. In George’s act of heroism it was a grenade during the Korean War in 1952.
George was an Eastern Cherokee Indian and tribe member. George’s parents, who spoke no English and had never been outside of their North Carolina mountain region, accepted his Congressional Medal of Honor from President Dwight Eisenhower at the White House in 1954. A photo of them holding the medal is visible at the VA Medical Center website named after their son.
There is a display in his honor at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, North Carolina and he is buried at the Yellow Hill Baptist Church Cemetary in Cherokee. To get a sense of the kind of young man and warrior he was, it’s worth reading his Medal of Honor citation in its entirety.
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.