Researcher tracks down family of local World War II veteran
Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, Cheyenne
CHEYENNE -- One week ago, the WTE ran a story about researcher David Walder's attempts to find the family of Capt. Alton V. Henry.
Henry was one of six soldiers who died trying to seize a lookout from Nazi Germany in August 1944.
Henry was buried in Cheyenne’s Lakeview Cemetery in 1949 and was the only one of Walder’s six research subjects whose family he could not locate.
But thanks to the WTE’s coverage, Walder’s five-year search is over.
The day the story ran, Walder got a call from John H. Henry, Capt. Henry’s only child, now 76 years old and living in Berthoud, Colo.
“Last Sunday was a zoo around here,” Henry said, adding that he got calls from friends in Cheyenne and Northern Colorado shortly after the story appeared.
Following the news, he reached out to Walder to thank him for his efforts in keeping Capt. Henry’s legacy alive.
Said Henry, “I thought his research and everything and looking for all six families was wonderful. I’ve tried to trace little bits of family, but he went over and above the call of duty.”
As it turns out, Capt. Alton V. Henry was not John Henry’s biological father n a fact the younger Henry didn’t learn until he tried to join the Wyoming Air National Guard.
His mother, Zoe, had him in a previous marriage two years prior to marrying Capt. Henry, though that fact hasn’t mattered much to John over the years.
“I didn’t know any different,” he said. “Even though he was not my biological father, I never knew the difference for 18 years.”
Henry said he already knew about much of the story before he read it: his stepfather’s military
service, his Silver Star citation and the time he spent in Cheyenne and elsewhere around the country.
But he said this was the first he ever has heard of the precise location where his stepfather died.
He added that Walder’s research has been a big find for the rest of his family, particularly his daughter, Cory Henry Wagner. She works as a hairdresser in Kentucky and has been eager to learn more about family history.
“She has been delving more into family history with her sister in Estes Park (Colo.), so she was pretty excited when all this happened,” Henry said.
According to him, Capt. Henry joined the Army when he was 15, lying about his age to get in. He was career military and taught ROTC in Lacrosse, Wis., as well as Brookings, S.D., where Walder lives.
Said Walder, “I asked John, ‘Did you know anything about a South Dakota connection?’ And he said ‘Oh yeah, he taught there.’
“He was a sergeant then, and he got to yell at the cadets in the classroom. But the tables turned when he came into contact with them again (after they graduated). He said, ‘Now I have to salute them.’”
While Walder thought Henry’s family had moved from Cheyenne to California after his death, John Henry told him that it was the opposite: Zoe moved to California during the war and returned to Cheyenne in 1945 after Capt. Henry died. She remarried in 1958 and spent the rest of her life here, dying in 1995.
John, meanwhile, used his stepfather’s GI Bill benefits to attend the University of Wyoming and graduate in 1961.
He later moved to Cincinnati, where he worked as a Perkins restaurant manager for nine years before taking over a franchise of his own. By the time he retired, he had owned 22 Perkins franchises.
Walder said it’s hard to describe the gratification he feels from finally having tracked down Capt. Henry’s family. He said he’s preparing a package of research materials that he has accumulated over the years to send to the family.
“It’s really a good feeling to find them. I don’t want to use the word ‘euphoric,’ but it’s been quite a struggle,” Walder said.
He added that it’s also satisfying to know he’s been able to share the legacy of one of the millions of unsung heroes who fought in World War II.
“It didn’t occur to me at the beginning of this, but as I read books about the war, I began to figure it out that I wasn’t going to be reading about the soldiers I was researching,” he said.
“But that didn’t make them any less important. That’s one of the good realizations about this whole thing; They wouldn’t get into any of the documentaries but, still, every contribution was meaningful.”