Finding Pvt. Henry V. Traynham
By Matt Mabe
Special to the Doughboy Foundation web site
Growing up I was always fascinated with military history. I still am. I recall as a small child meeting my great grandfather Jeffrey Traynham, who served in the Navy during World War I, though I was never able to learn more about his wartime service. In the early 2000s, I took a class on World War II history in college, and began researching a family member who had served during the war. While discussing this with my grandmother and his sister, they commented as an aside that their father Jeffrey was initially reluctant to let their brother join the Army in WWII because Jeffrey had lost his brother Henry during WWI. I was surprised to hear this revelation, as I never knew my great grandfather had a brother who had also served in WWI and had been killed in combat. My grandmother and her sister produced an old family photo album from the closet and showed me a small photo of a young Army private in uniform wearing a campaign hat standing in front of a tent -- this was my great-great uncle Henry V. Traynham.
I endeavored to learn more about Henry’s service, and over the years I uncovered additional pieces of information about Henry’s life and service. Henry and his brother Jeffrey were born in a small town in Guilford County, North Carolina and Henry worked as a farmer before entering into the Army. He served in the 102nd Infantry Regiment, 26th Infantry Division (the “Yankee” Division), and was killed in action on June 19, 1918. He was 26 years old, and was one of the first boys from the county to be killed during the war. He was brought home for burial, and was laid to rest in a church cemetery in not far from their family’s home.
Many years passed before I would learn more, but in 2018 I found a blog written about a soldier from the 102nd Infantry Regiment, and it chronicled his service his service in France from start to finish. It mentioned Henry’s name amongst the soldiers from the Company F who were killed in action. My interest was raised once again. I learned Henry and his fellow soldiers were positioned near Chemin des Dames in the spring of 1918, where they encountered gas attacks from the Germans. In the weeks that followed, his company occupied positions in Remieres Woods, just outside the small village of Seicheprey in Eastern France. While holding their positions in the trenches, Henry’s company was engaged in multiple skirmishes with the Germans and fought off a large German assault in late April 1918. On June 19, 1918, Henry was killed in action; the only soldier from Company F to be lost that day. I wanted to know more about what these brave men endured, and I sought out more information about Henry’s final weeks on the western front.
As many of the soldiers from the 102nd Infantry Regiment were originally drawn from the Connecticut National Guard, I contacted a representative from the Connecticut State Library, who was spearheading a project honoring WWI veterans from Connecticut who served in the 102nd. She offered to put me in contact with Gerard Andre, the mayor of the village of Seicheprey. I was very pleased to receive a reply from Mr. Andre, who invited me to stop by his office if I ever traveled to France. In March 2019, I visited my brother who was stationed in Germany, and we decided to make the trip a few hours west to France. We stopped at the American Cemetery at Saint-Mihiel and saw the graves of the men who, like Henry, were killed in France. These were hallowed grounds, and the magnitude of what these men endured during the war continued to sink in.
We arrived in Seicheprey later that day and saw the small memorial to the men of the 102nd Infantry Regiment. Mayor Andre was incredibly generous with his time, and took us around the perimeter of the village to see the remnants of the American trenches. These trenches had not been restored like some of the other WWI sites in France, and it seemed as if this location had been untouched by time. It was hard to imagine what that site looked like in June 1918, as men huddled in the muddy trenches and surely feared daily attacks from the Germans. My effort to learn about Henry’s service had come full circle, and this was an experience that I’ll never forget.
After returning back to the states, I shared photos of the trip to Seicheprey with my extended family. I received an email from one of my uncle’s, Scott Ellis, who was moved by the images saw. Scott had heard about Henry’s service growing up, and had been told by his mother never to ask his grandfather (Jeffrey) about what happened to his brother Henry during the war. The loss of his brother was clearly an event that weighed heavily on Jeffrey for all of his adult life. Scott asked for my address and only said “I have something from our family that I think you may enjoy.”
The box my uncle Scott sent contained the original American flag from Henry’s funeral service along with the framed certificate the U.S. Army sent to the Traynham family which honored Henry for “laying down his life in the cause of his country.” I was blown away to see these treasured items and I have become their custodian.
As a final chapter to this story, I was very pleased to learn that Pershing Square was redesigned and dedicated as the National WWI Memorial. I visited the Memorial on June 23, 2022, the anniversary of the week Henry was killed, and I was present for the playing of taps by Kevin Paul, a bugler from TapsForVeterans.org, sponsored by the Doughboy Foundation. I brought Henry’s framed certificate and folded flag with me and I showed it to Kevin after taps had concluded. I sincerely thank the volunteers of the Doughboy Foundation for honoring Pvt. Henry V. Traynham and all the other WWI veterans who never made it home.