Korean War veteran seeks to honor fellow soldiers
Murphy – Oscar Valdes just wants U.S. military veterans to get their due.
Valdes has been in front of the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners twice hoping to see a sign erected at Konehete Park to honor veterans like himself, but his efforts have been rebuffed.
At the last commission meeting June 18, Valdes even brought a mockup of the potential sign that would welcome visitors to “Konehete Veterans Park.” However, he was told by Commissioner Gary “Hippie” Westmoreland and Murphy Mayor Rick Ramsey that such a change would require consultation with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
While the land is owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority and co-leased by Cherokee County and Murphy, the park is historically Cherokee land that is honored historically by the name Konehete, which means “long valley place” in the Cherokee language.
“I don’t have any problem with the name Konehete, it’s right there on my sign,” Valdes said. “I would never eliminate that from the name. I just want something here in Murphy to honor veterans.”
Life of service
Valdes fought in the Korean War, the anniversary of which was Monday. The war started on June 25, 1950, and Valdes said many Korea veterans still alive today feel they are often forgotten.
Valdes was sent with the First Cavalry Division from Fort Benning, Ga., at the start of the war. He served at the Battle of Pusan Perimeter, where he was wounded. After recuperating and being involved in the Battle of Inchon later that year, Valdes and his company pushed further north and endured a harsh winter.
“It was 22 below zero every day. It made this last winter in Murphy look like nothing,” he said. “We were scarce on food, and we were not equipped for the cold at all. We were wearing our battle fatigues.”
When he returned to the states, Valdes became a drill sergeant. He practiced
by having one of his commanders take him out in the woods and have him bark orders at trees.
“It was silly to tell the trees to stand at attention, but it taught me how to do it,” he said. “After a couple of weeks, they gave me back my platoon.”
Valdes remains active with local veterans organizations and assists with the honor guard at veterans events in Cherokee County. He also helped get the Coast Guard emblem added to the memorial in town as well as adding space for veterans killed in Afghanistan.
“I hope we will never need any more space for names on the wall,” he said.
Bridging the gap
Like any good mayor, Ramsey wants to do right by all parties involved. He said there were no plans to change the name of the park, which for so long has honored the Cherokee heritage.
“We have a great relationship with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and the last thing we would do is anything that would be offensive to them,” he said. “Our park is definitely too beautiful for such a rusty sign, and we do need a new one, but it will be one that we run by them and done as respectfully as possible.”
Ramsey also fully understands the importance of honoring veterans, as his father – Leonard “Pee Wee” Ramsey – served during World War II as a private first class in the U.S. Army.
PFC Ramsey was shot on Normandy Beach, and after surviving that was later wounded by a Nazi missile attack. When he returned home, he ran a grocery store in Murphy for 12 hours a day with the help of his son, who worked without technically being on the payroll.
“He never complained a day in his life,” the mayor said. “I couldn’t have more respect for veterans and what they have done for us. I do want to find a way to honor veterans in Murphy, and I would like to work with Mr. Valdes to find an appropriate way to do that.”