Charles Payne: World War II veteran

The Chicago Tribune has an interesting article about President Barack Obama’s great uncle Charles Payne.  Eighty four year old Charles Payne was a private first class in the 89th Infantry Division during World War II. The 89th Infantry participated in the liberation of Ohrdruf, a forced-labor camp that was a satellite of the Buchenwald concentration camp. It’s been rumored that while visiting Europe this summer President Obama is considering a visit to the concentration camp that his great uncle helped liberate in April 1945 and he’s expected to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings in France on June 6.  A White House spokesperson hasn’t confirmed or denied the rumored trip to the former concentration camp.

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Obama relative recalls World War II horror
President may visit concentration camp great-uncle helped liberate

By John McCormick
Tribune reporter
May 8, 2009

For much of his 84 years, Charles Payne has lived in Chicago in relative obscurity and watched his sister’s grandson rise to the presidency.

But now it appears possible that a painful part of Payne’s own story will be brought to the forefront, based on German news reports that President Barack Obama is considering a visit to the concentration camp that his great uncle helped liberate in April 1945.

Payne, who spent much of his career working in library science at the University of Chicago, was a private first class in the 89th Infantry Division during World War II when he participated in the liberation of Ohrdruf, a forced-labor camp that was a satellite of the Buchenwald concentration camp.

“I remember seeing a lot of really emaciated people in rags at the point of starvation. People were clutching tin cups for food,” he said Thursday in a Tribune interview. “I saw sheds where dead bodies had been stacked up.”

But Payne said he had thought little in recent years about the horrors he saw, until German reporters started calling to ask about a possible presidential visit.

A German government spokesman told reporters in Berlin that Obama may visit Buchenwald while in Europe this summer. The president is expected to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings in France on June 6, and a Group of Eight summit will be held in Italy in July.

German spokesman Thomas Steg was quoted as saying Obama may plan to visit “historical places that in the widest sense are related to the different aspects of World War II — destruction and rebuilding, extermination and the breakdown of civilization.”

A White House spokesman declined to confirm or deny that Obama planned to follow Payne’s wartime tracks. More than 50,000 people were killed at Buchenwald.

After receiving a degree in engineering from Kansas State University,  Charles Payne moved to Chicago in 1960 where he spent most of his career working in library science at the University of Chicago.

Check out the entire article here and you can see the photo gallery here.

4 responses

  1. My Dad would have found this story to be very cool. My Dad, Navy man Louis, was commissioned on the Navy escort ship USS Robert I Paine and after they saved and brought on board over 279 surviving army soldiers from the sunken USS Block Island (May 29, 1944), his ship steamed for Gibraltor on June 4th. He is a hero in our family.

  2. my dad was liberated at Ohrdruf

  3. […] Obama’s great uncle Charles Payne has delivered some candid talk about just why his late sister’s grandson is visiting the […]

  4. Joseph H. Knight

    My big brother, PFC Robert J. Knight was a BAR man with the 89th, Co L, all the way across France and Germany. I know he would love to hear from any of his brothers in arms. He is our family’s hero.

    Robert J, Knight
    Rte #1 Box 222A
    Duncan, OK 73533

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