Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Don B Snyder - Part 5: Joining the Army

Climbing My Family Tree: Don B. Snyder
Don B. Snyder
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This is Part 5 of a 13-part blog series sharing my Grand-uncle Don’s life story, in his own words, via an autobiography sent to me by Don’s grandson, Ron Oldfield, after Ron stumbled across one of my prior posts about his grandfather. It is shared with the permission of both of Don’s children and Ron Oldfield. [Note – Anything in brackets with green type is my added explanation of something in Don’s text.]

Don’s story:

Part 5 – Joining the Army

Climbing My Family Tree: 1940 Army Recruiting Poster
1940 Army Recruiting Poster
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I joined the National Guard in 1937. In 1940 we were inducted on active duty. Fortunately, I was promoted to platoon sergeant in charge of 50 men. We were sent to Camp Shelby at Hattiesburg, Mississippi. That was where we got our first draftees. They hadn’t had any training when they came, but they soon shaped up. I felt sorry for a couple I found crying, as it was so different than what they were used to. I took it easy with them and they got over it.

I transferred from Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania to Fort Benning, Georgia [for a 3-month Officer’s Training course in March 1942]. They formed one new anti-tank platoon in battalion headquarters for the battalion. I was platoon sergeant of this unit. We later received four 37mm anti-tank guns and nine jeeps. Later, we got three 57mm guns, each weighing almost two tons, plus one jeep and three big 6x6 trucks. This was for hauling the men plus ammunition and supplies. We then transferred to Camp Carrabelle, Florida for amphibian training. That’s for landing on a hostile shore in boats. We lived in tents in a swampy area. Sometimes the water would come up under our cots so we had to keep everything on our beds. I liked the training. We went in smaller landing craft. They held about 30 men, or in our case about a squad: ten men plus an anti-tank gun. It was a pretty sight to see. There were about 10 landing craft in a wave, parallel to the shore going in circles. At a given time the craft would form a line facing the shore, spread out and heading for the shore. First, one wave followed by ten waves. It was not all fun and games. Nearing shore sometimes a craft would hit a sandbar and get stuck. Then the front would drop and the men would step out and wade to shore. If someone in a hole, with all our gear and guns we sometimes would step over his head while others would pull him out of it.

Climbing My Family Tree: Crew of a 37mm anti-tank gun in training at Fort Benning, Georgia clean and adjust their weapon, Office of War Information, LOC
Crew of a 37mm anti-tank gun in training at Fort Benning, Georgia clean and adjust their weapon.
Office of War Information, Library of Congress
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Next, we went to Alexandria, Louisiana. My wife, Ardith, came to live with me in Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Louisiana. It wasn’t easy for her, as there were so many soldiers’ wives there, but she was happy with it. Our son, Philip, was born in Findlay, Ohio [in 1943] and luckily I got a [10-day] furlough when in Louisiana and got home the night he was born. [Don was a Staff Sergeant when his son was born.]

In early 1943 I was selected to go to Hawaii on advance detail, for our company was moving there. We had thousands on board. I was eight decks down, two decks below the water line, with about 490 others in our hold. We zigzagged all the way 2500 miles to avoid Jap subs. Each day we were allowed on deck for one hour in the morning for air and the same in the afternoon. There were so many on deck you could hardly see the water. After a day I was going up the stairwell when a man on the side yelled “Snyder,” and pulled me out of line. He was a major officer. I said, “Sir, how did you know my name?” He said, “I’ve seen you fight (box) on the division team.” I was really surprised. The big wheel recognized me! It turned out he was from division headquarters and I had trained at the sports arena there every day for a while. I found out he was in charge of security on the ship. He then pulled out an “MP / Military Police” armband put it on my arm. I was shocked, as that meant that I could go anywhere on the ship at any time I wanted, and I sure used it. I felt sorry for the other guys, as they wondered what it was all about. A couple of years later I was a patient in a Nashville hospital going down the hall with my leg in a cast and on crutches when I heard someone call out my name “Snyder.” It was him again. We talked and he told me he had a bad stomach and had to come back. It was good to see him again.

Climbing My Family Tree
Large detailed Japanese World War II physical map of Hawaii 1943 inside.
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In Hawaii, we were to guard the island of Oahu. I had a squad at the entrance to Pearl Harbor from the sea. I was there once and saw a submarine coming in. There were some on deck and I thought “man, I bet they could tell you some stories.” After the war, a customer told me he was on a sub that got into Tokyo Bay. The Japs raised the net at the entrance and followed the ship going in, underneath it. It was night and they didn’t see anything, so rather than do nothing, they shelled a fishery across the bay and followed another ship out. We lost a lot of subs in the war, and you usually didn’t know who or where. I shouldn’t talk about the war, but I read in a book that three different subs were lost leaving Perth, Australia at the westernmost tip. They just were never heard from. We had one or more subs away from the entrance. Sure enough, they found a Jap sub waiting for something to come out. They didn’t have to wait any longer as we sunk it. Getting off my story. I also had a squad in the village of Ewa on the north side of Pearl Harbor. They had it made, schoolhouse, swimming pool, etc. Then third squad was guarding a radar station upon the mountains. I went up there once, and while there, one of my men came and told me there was a Jap submarine going north underwater. We were high enough and the sun was shining down and sure enough there it was moving slowly. They had in recent days been seen around the northern part. I had heard that our subs stayed on the surface when around our islands. I sent a guy up to the radar station to call in about it so it could be sunk. They must have been asleep at the post as no planes came over. I think it was the same radar station that called in about planes coming in December 7. They called in and the man at headquarters thought it was American planes coming in from the states and did nothing.

I had heard that sometimes at one of the air bases there that sometimes they would let you fly with them. Sounded pretty good to me. I was at Schofield Barracks and got a ride to Wheeler Field Air Base. There, I spotted a major by his plane. I asked him if I could fly with him. He hesitated and I thought “O.K.” He finally said “I’m afraid not. We are leaving on a practice dive bombing raid on Maui,” and he was afraid I couldn’t stand the strain. I’ve seen some of these dive bombers in action and I thought he was right so I thanked him and left.

I forgot to mention, in our jungle training, a Lt. Instructor, nice guy, told off a guy for smoking around all of those demolitions. He said, “I’ve got a wife and two kids back home that I want to see.” I heard he was killed a couple of weeks later. Maybe so, maybe not, but I hardly believe anyone would make it up. In the jungle training course, we also learned judo and how to survive in the jungle if lost. It was very effective and prepared us for almost anything.

Jungle Training School, 1943, Hawaii (Dept of Defense, US Army)
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It was really pleasant in Hawaii. Every day neither too hot nor too cold. The ocean was warm and had nice waves to dive in. At times I would get a big 6x6 truck and take whoever wanted to go swimming. Once we went there and the waves looked 30 feet high and surely 20 feet. Probably from a storm out at sea. Down the coast, they didn’t look so high. The guys didn’t want to go in, but being stupid, I did. It was one of the most horrible times of my life. The water beat every spot on my body like a fire hose, ripped off my goggles, and I was fighting for my life. I was going up but didn’t think I’d make it as I had to breathe. Just then I hit the top of the wave, grabbed a couple of breaths and I went crashing down in the surf. It washed me way up on the beach. By the time I stood up the water was rushing back. I tried to walk away from the surf to go up on the beach but it was rushing back so fast and above my knees that I couldn’t move. They tried to form a chain hanging on to me but they couldn’t reach me. I was swept off my feet and into the big wave again. I was lucky again and got to the top. Surprisingly, I noticed as the wave rose, water on top went slowly back. I swam back with it. A cross-current took me down the beach where the waves were not so high and I made it to the shore all right. I’ve heard of cross-currents that have taken men out to sea and never seen again. Maybe down the line, it did but I was lucky in more ways than one.

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