Editor’s Note: World War II veteran George Snyder passed away on August 29. As a tribute to Mr. Snyder, who was a lifelong resident of Maumee, The Mirror is reprinting, in its entirety, the following feature story profile that first appeared in the newspaper just a few days prior to Veterans Day in 2015.
BY JOEL SENSENIG | MIRROR REPORTER — There was a time when George Snyder didn’t want to talk about what he had witnessed during World War II.
“No, no, no. I didn’t talk about it for a long time,” he said, drawing out “long” for emphasis.
Following his return to America after three years of service in the U.S. Army’s 337th Infantry Regiment, 85th Infantry Division, Company G, lifelong Maumee resident Snyder had trouble adjusting to civilian life. He just wasn’t himself, and it was taking a toll on his personal life.
“My wife would have a fit and said, ‘You’ve got to stop this,’” he recalled. “They had an Army reunion. She made arrangements and I got to see the guys that were left and talk to them. That relieved all of that pressure off of me, I guess.”
The soft-spoken man of 93 years still doesn’t go into much detail of his time overseas, but he doesn’t shy away from it, either.
He watches military programming on TV sometimes and goes back in his mind to 1942-45, when he served as a private first class in Africa and Italy.
“I watch the Army stuff on there,” he said, pointing to the TV. “It gets me kind of upset every once in a while because there was too many guys left (overseas) in my outfit.”
Snyder estimates that only a dozen of the original 200 men in his outfit returned from deployment. He is the only one still living, that he knows of.
After completing training at Camp Polk in Louisiana, Snyder was deployed to Africa and Italy in the European Theater of the war.
When Snyder thinks back to his time in the service, it would be impossible not to remember the 28 days he spent at a German prisoner of war camp.
In the winter of 1942, the first year of his service, a 20-year-old Snyder and his friend, Ernest Cole, were searching for a group of missing soldiers when they happened upon German forces, tank and all.
“We walked right into a trap with a tank,” he recalled. We were on patrol and the two of us got caught. I had a rifle here and a pistol here,” he said, motioning to his right and left hip.
“I said, ‘Should I shoot?’ He said, ‘Don’t shoot, there’s a tank there. We’ll both be in trouble!’”
For nearly a month, Snyder and Cole lived in the POW camp with about 200 other hostages, housed inside a run-down movie studio south of Rome, Italy. The building was marked “POW” on the roof so friendly forces didn’t bomb them.
The Germans didn’t necessarily mistreat the POWs, Snyder said. Still, it wasn’t a luxurious stay. Once-daily meals consisted of raw potatoes and onions.
“I lost a lot of weight,” he said. “They didn’t beat us or anything like that,” he said. “They treated us pretty good. I can’t complain.”
Snyder vividly recalls the day he escaped the Nazi-controlled camp with Cole at his side.
“We were in the prison camp, south of Rome. They were going to take us to Florence, so they started marching us. One day while we were marching, somebody made a break. Well, you don’t stick around when they’re shooting. You get your butt out of there, too, so that’s what I did. Me and the fellow that I got captured with, we escaped together.”
After more than a week of barely surviving in the rugged mountains, a U.S. soldier saw Snyder and his small group of comrades. The soldier returned them back to their regiment.
The war continued, with Snyder once again on the front lines, with little rest or recovery from his days in captivity.
In 2002, 60 years after being taken captive, Snyder was awarded with three Bronze Star medals for his heroism in the war.
In addition to the Bronze Stars, Snyder received the EAME Theater Ribbon, the World War II Victory Ribbon, the American Theater Ribbon and a Good Conduct medal.
Actually, he was awarded the medals in 1962, but for whatever reason, he was not notified of the honor until 40 years later.
In 2002, he said of the late reception of awards: “It’s really unbelievable. I just tell people, ‘The Army moves fast.’”
He keeps the honors in a scrapbook full of photographs, letters and memorabilia from those three years in the Army.
“I look at it once in awhile,” Snyder said.
Reminders of the war still arrive in his mailbox on a regular basis. He just received a thank-you note from the wife of a friend who was critically wounded in battle and has since passed away.
The typed message in the card reads: “Thank you for serving our great country and allowing us to enjoy so many freedoms. We are so very blessed to be able to say ‘I’m proud to be an American.’ God bless you!!” – Rita Euler.
He gets other reminders of his time in the military in the form of free meals, such as a recent invitation for a free steak or seafood dinner at the Whitehouse Inn. Snyder isn’t sure he’ll go, but seems to appreciate the offer all the same.
As the years and decades have rolled by, those who Snyder can relate to about what he went through have dwindled. The reunions stopped. Today, he doesn’t know of anyone from his unit still alive.
Snyder and Cole remained close in the years following the war and got together for reunions, but as with everyone else Snyder knew from those years, his former best friend passed away.
He doesn’t go to the VFW any more – not since the Maumee location shuttered.
The Maumee man doesn’t wax poetic about his time in the service or what Veterans Day means to him.
“It’s fine,” he said when asked about how November 11 is celebrated these days.
Still, he was never injured while serving and knows he’s one of the lucky ones in that sense.
“I was one of the few,” he said.
Previously, he made the following statement, which is included on a “biography” page in his scrapbook: “Veterans’ organizations today are our historians. Not a lot is taught in schools. We talk in schools all the time about war life and patriotism, and I am very proud to be a part of it. Be proud of your country.”
Snyder is going to a Veterans Day service at The University of Toledo, where his daughter works, but doesn’t figure he’ll do much else to mark the occasion.
Most days, he just lives – just as he has for 70 years now since returning to America a forever-changed man.
Another quote from his scrapbook seems to sum up his life, both in the war and in the decades following: “You kind of get numb to it (fear), and you just pray every day. It’s all you can do.”