Nearly 100 years ago, Private First Class Thomas M. Haynes from Surry County was serving along the Hindenburg Line during some of the most-intense fighting in World War I.
The campaign proved successful for U.S. forces and their allies — overrunning the last line of German defenses on the Western Front — but Pfc. Haynes did not emerge unscathed.
“He was severely wounded,” said John Elskamp, the founder of a North Carolina-based organization known as the Veterans Legacy Foundation which researched Haynes’ military record.
Haynes, a native of the Dobson area who was around 20 while serving with the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe, would recover from his war wounds and raise a family.
But by the time of his death in the 1950s, the combat veteran had never received official recognition for his military service — an omission that will be corrected during Monday’s annual Memorial Day service in Mount Airy.
A posthumous presentation honoring Haynes will be a highlight of the patriotic program scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. at the city war memorial on the corner of South Main and Rockford streets. It also will include a local Honor Guard presence, a rifle salute and other activities in remembrance of those who died serving their country.
Haynes’ daughter, Nellie Taylor, 78, will receive a Purple Heart earned by her father by virtue of his war wounds, along with the World War I Victory Medal and the North Carolina World War I Service Medal. Making the presentation will be Lt. Col. Charles W. Morrison, deputy chief of staff for operations and training of the North Carolina National Guard.
“He (Haynes) was definitely eligible for the Purple Heart,” said Elskamp of the Veterans Legacy Foundation, who also will be in Mount Airy Monday to present information about the local man’s service.
Elskamp, who is veterans services officer for Harnett County, spearheaded efforts to secure Haynes’ military decorations on behalf of the foundation.
“They’re a wonderful group of gentlemen,” Surry Veterans Services Officer Mike Scott said of Veterans Legacy Foundation members. They aid in tracking down information about cases such as Haynes’ to ensure former military members get the recognition they deserve, albeit sometimes belatedly.
Most of the members are retired or former military personnel. “Basically, they volunteer their time to network with resources they have,” Scott said of their efforts to help secure medals awarded for veterans.
Effort takes shape
The trail to unite Haynes’ daughter with her father’s military decorations began with Scott at the county veterans services agency when Nellie Taylor contacted him.
“She was wanting to see if she could get some background on him and his history and service and so forth,” Scott recalled. “I took it as far as I could.”
The local official ended up reaching out to the Veterans Legacy Foundation.
That group is highly acclaimed for its work in investigating cases in which ex-service members such as Haynes essentially have fallen through the cracks and led to them or families not receiving deserved medals.
“And we do this for veterans all around the country,” Elskamp said Friday.
Scott said Elskamp’s group was able to locate Haynes’ awards.
Elskamp said that for years, the Purple Heart was not given for wounded personnel but “military merit.” This was changed in the early 1930s when that decoration was re-introduced to recognize such individuals, after about a 150-year lull.
“It was retroactive, and we did find out he was wounded,” Elskamp said regarding Haynes’ Purple Heart.
The local man was a member of the 30th Infantry (“Old Hickory”) Division, 119th Infantry Regiment. The 30th Infantry Division was a unit of the Army National Guard in World War I and World War II.
Lt. Col. Morrison is a former commander of a unit linked to that division, so Elskamp said it is appropriate for him to present the medals to Haynes’ daughter Monday. Her brother also might attend, Scott said.
Elskamp says the hard work his organization does to help veterans and their families obtain the recognition they deserve pays off with events such as Monday’s in Mount Airy.
“It’s a chance to celebrate these brave military veterans for their accomplishments and to say ‘thank you,’” he added.
Scott, the Surry veterans services officer, said the gesture honoring Haynes is well-timed for the upcoming holiday.
“Especially for Memorial Day, it’s going to fit the criteria perfectly,” he said.
Monday’s program at the city war memorial also will include:
• The raising of the flag by the City of Mount Airy Honor Guard;
• An invocation delivered by Scott, a U.S. Navy retiree;
• The singing of the national anthem by Elizabeth Martin;
• The reading of a special city proclamation, prepared in honor of Memorial Day, by Commissioner Steve Yokeley, who will serve as emcee for the event;
• The placing of a wreath at the memorial, which contains the names of Surry County’s war dead from the Revolution up to recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan;
• A rifle volley salute by the VFW Memorial Honor Guards from Mount Airy Post 2019 and Pilot Mountain Post 9436.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.