CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It didn't start as a quest. Robin Godfrey merely wished to track down a memorial plaque to his great-uncle, Henry Goodman.
He learned about the plaque in 2006 and that it was located somewhere along the Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. Godfrey was also interested in his relative because he had been, like the Charleston attorney himself, a lawyer, the only other one in the family.
After several attempts walking the length and breadth of the parkway, Godfrey finally came upon the plaque. It was a small one set into the ground that read simply: "This tree is dedicated to the memory of Corp. Henry D. Goodman, Hdqtrs. Co. 308th. Infantry Who died in the World War 1914-1918."
"Then I seemed to have set it down for a couple of years," Godfrey said. "Then I started to wonder, well, where was he buried? My cousin initially found the cemetery. After I found his gravesite, I started to wonder, well, how did he die? Then I wondered how he was a lawyer. So one thing let to another, until I discovered his burial record, which I thought had been burned up in a fire."
That was the main gold mine in this search because it told exactly what transpired and how he died, Godfrey said. "It was really another tragic death. It's one man's story from World War I, where how many million people died, and American soldiers?
"So, once I got the burial record, I said, well, we have to finish this journey and go to France. Fortunately, my cousin speaks French and my wife speaks pretty good French."
Godfrey has written up a 30-page draft of the tale of his search for his great uncle's story, tentatively titled "Finding Corporal Goodman."
It tracks the ins and outs of his attempts to piece together exactly where and how his relative died at the age of 30. "In this business, you just make the next phone call and keep looking for people."
What he found out was that his great-uncle was working at the regimental headquarters at Chéry-Chartreuve in the Picardy region of France while the place was under a heavy barrage of German fire at a rate estimated at 1,600 rounds a day.
Cpl. Goodman was at the time working for Charles Whittlesey, who would go on to fame as leader of the "Lost Battalion." Goodman was busy at his typewriter in the next room with the door closed when a shell hit the headquarters and burst through the roof. A shell fragment penetrated the door and hit him on the right thigh.
His burial record goes on to say:
"With his leg hanging on threads and through gas he crawled out of the room into the hallway, down a short stoop into a courtyard and then into a dugout where he received first aid. During the time that he was receiving medical treatment from Major Wagner he was conscious and made enquiries about the men who were in the room with him. On the way to the hospital he died from loss of blood."
Goodman was taken to a field hospital near Fère-en-Tardenois, a chateau which is a private residence today. He was first buried in a temporary cemetery. A year later, the body was exhumed and moved to what later became the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery, the second-largest American cemetery in Europe. The family then requested the body be returned to America, where he was later interred at Mount Zion Cemetery in Queens, N.Y.
Godfrey headed to France this past October to seek out the last piece of the puzzle: the location of the 308th Regimental Headquarters on Aug. 21, 1918 -- the day his uncle died. He had done a lot of preliminary work, studying a host of maps and archives and working with a surveyor friend and a legion of contacts.