His name, according to the Obama campaign, was Charles T. Payne.
He was born in February 1925, and he served in the 89th Infantry Division of the Army during World War II.
Checking out Obama's story -- you may recall that on Memorial Day, Obama mistakenly said his great uncle was one of the soldiers who helped liberate the concentration camp Auschwitz, when in fact the 89th helped liberate Buchenwald -- our friends at Politifact looked into the matter.
"Although we were not able to reach Payne directly, Payne's son, Richard Payne, said his father 'definitely served in the 89th Infantry Division' and confirmed that Obama's account was substantially accurate, except for identifying the wrong concentration camp. Richard Payne declined to say anything further."
Politifact spoke with researchers at the National Personnel Records Center, who reported that "Army personnel records for Payne would have been destroyed in a 1973 fire that consumed many such archives, but they dug up a 'Morning Report' dated April 11, 1945, showing Pfc. Charles T. Payne was assigned to the 355th Regiment Infantry, Company K. The Records Center provided a copy of the report."
Then there's the unofficial website dedicated to the 89th Infantry Division. Politifact spoke with Mark Kitchell, son of 89th veteran Raymond E. Kitchell, who has a list of servicemen -- a list that includes Pfc. C.T. Payne, K Company, 355th Infantry Regiment, 89th Infantry Division -- from the official Division History book.
Politifact concluded that while Obama erred in the name of the concentration camp, the story otherwise checked out.
An interesting side story here -- the Kitchells are not particularly happy with the conservative bloggers who have set out to prove Obama was "lying" about his great uncle.
On their website, the Kitchells have written:"Concerning the service of Mr. Charles Payne: C.T. Payne was a soldier in the 89th Infantry Division. He served in the 355th Infantry Regiment, Company K. The 355th Infantry Regiment was the unit to liberate Ohrdruf. Mr. Payne was there.
"For those who seek to minimize the horrors of Ohrdruf since it was a 'work' camp and not a 'death' camp, we have but one word: shame. Ironically, this argument has been made to us time and time again by various Holocaust-deniers and other pro-Nazi groups. We will let the testimony of survivors and veterans speak for themselves.
"'It has been recorded that in Ordruf itself the last days were a slaughterhouse. We were shot at, beaten and molested. At every turn went on the destruction of the remaining inmates. Indiscriminant criminal behavior (like the murderers of Oklahoma City some days ago). Some days before the first Americans appeared at the gates of Ordruf, the last retreating Nazi guards managed to execute with hand pistols, literally emptying their last bullets on whomever they encountered leaving them bleeding to death as testified by an American of the 37th Tank Battalion Medical section, 10 a.m. April 4, 1945.
"'Today I'm privileged thanks to G-d and you gallant fighting men. I'm here to reminisce, and reflect, and experience instant recollections of those moments. Those horrible scenes and that special instance when an Allied soldier outstretched his arm to help me up became my re-entrance, my being re-invited into humanity and restoring my inalienable right to a dignified existence as a human being and as a Jew. Something, which was denied me from September 1939 to the day of liberation in 1945. I had no right to live and survived, out of 80 members of my family, the infernal ordeal of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Ordruf, and its satellite camp Crawinkle and finally Theresinstadt Ghetto-Concentration Camp.
"'Rabbi Murray Kohn'
Then there's this remarkable exchange between the conservative bloggers at Sweetness & Light and Ray Kitchell, who served with the 89th:
From: Steve GilbertSent: Wednesday, May 28, 2008 6:14 AMSubject: Any Record Of Charles W Payne?
As you may have heard by now, Barack Obama has claimed that his great uncle Charlie Payne was a member of the 89th Div that liberated Buchenwald.
According to records his full name is either Charles W Payne or Charles T Payne (most likely the former), and he was born in 1924 — and he is still alive today.
He most likely was from Kansas at the time of enlistment.
Do you have any record of this gentleman?
PS - If you go to my website, you will see that I was probably the first to note the error in Mr. Obama’s first claims about his “uncle.”
And the response:
Please crawl back under the rock you came out from.
Raymond Kitchell, veteran 89th Inf Div
Kitchell also wrote in a subsequent email: "Please spend ample time chasing down the lies fed to you by chickenhawks Bush & Co. Like 90% of this administration, they don’t have the foggiest idea what we went through or what we saw at Ohrdruf." *
The response at Sweetness & Light was to compare Kitchell to Cindy Sheehan.
* It's been pointed out to me that the Cindy Sheehan comparison was in response to the "chickenhawks" email, so I added it for better context.