As a young kid I was always snooping into my parents' cedar chest. I would come across my dad’s medals and every so often I would ask him to tell me a story about the war. One story stuck with me because it had such an effect on my father. I asked him about his Purple Heart medal and asked how he got it. He would pass on how he was Patton’s personal jeep driver for about 4 weeks after he got wounded, and how one day Patton came up to him sitting behind the wheel and threw the medal case on his lap and said “Here Snyder, Here is your Purple Heart. Now let's get moving and see if you can earn another.” I’d stop him and say, no, I want to hear how you were wounded. At which point you could see his face sink and a blank stare come over him and all he would ever say, is “I was surrounded for 7 days on a hill in Mortain, France. When you understand what it means to get out of your fox hole to go take a leak and you come back and your buddies' throats are slit, you’ll understand why I don’t want to talk about it,” and that was the extent of what I knew.
Then, back in 2000, an old buddy of Dad's came to visit, Herb Fielding. I had the honor of hosting him for a week at my home. It was through Herb that I would find out more about my father than I ever knew. He told me the story. He said it was early in the morning on Aug. 6, 1944. They were set up just east of Mortain at a crossroads manning it with their M5 towed anti-tank gun. Just before dawn they heard the rumbling of armored vehicles coming but couldn’t see them through the dense fog. Within minutes they were met with what appeared to be the entire German army coming straight at them. They didn’t know it at the time, but it was to be known as the “Operation Luttich” which was the counter-invasion to the Allied invasion in Normandy. It was spearheaded by the XLVII Panzer Corps and it was indeed the spearhead coming right down their road. Within minutes Dad’s gun needed to be abandoned after only firing about 10 rounds and taking heavy fire. The men who weren’t killed immediately were on their own. Dad and Herb heard that the main artillery was setting up on the hill behind the town, on Hill 314. so they decided to use that as a rendezvous point. After going about a quarter mile, Dad asked Herb if he knew if the platoon sgt. took the firing pin out of the gun before abandoning it. It turns out that it was the platoon sgt’s job to remove the firing pin if they ever had to abandon the gun in order to make the gun inoperable so it couldn’t be used by the enemy. Herb said he wasn’t sure he hadn’t seen anyone else get out. Dad told him to hide there in the ditch and if he wasn’t back within 20 minutes to just head toward the hill without him. Herb said the next thing he knew my father went back toward the gun.
About an hour to an hour and a half later, Herb said he was still hiding in the ditch and watching as he thought the entire German army was passing him. He didn’t want to leave without knowing what happened to everyone else. About that time, my dad came back hobbling, wounded in the leg. He looked at Herb and held up the firing pin and said let's go. Herb asked him what happened back there, and all Dad told him was “don’t ask,” and just said “no one else from the gun crew made it, but neither did a lot of Krauts.”
At this time they headed for Hill 314. They were at the face of the hill and had to start climbing up. Herb said he went first and Dad was struggling along behind. Herb said he asked Dad to be able to help him and Dad refused. The longer this went Herb said he started getting angry with Dad for not allowing him to help him, he said “he was slowing me down and I wanted to make it to the top.” He said they started arguing and the next thing you knew it got the attention of Germans which brought on machine gun fire. Herb said that really pissed him off and they started arguing even more as why dad wouldn’t accept help. He was just being stubborn and the louder they got with each other the more gunfire it brought in around them, but the closer the bullets got the quicker they climbed and the louder they argued. After a while they did make it to the top and joined up with the 120th inf which was dug in on the hill.
At this point, Herb also didn’t go into too much detail regarding the happenings of the next 7 days while they were surrounded and isolated on top of Hill 314. Against all odds, the men on top of that hill fought off numerous infantry attacks with hand to hand fighting as well as constant artillery bombardment to try to dislodge them. What Herb did tell me was this; of about the 1,000 men atop the hill, only 300 came down off of it and most of them were wounded. That during that time he said he would watch my dad go to the edge of the hill overlooking the town below them every morning. And then after a few minutes he would come back. He asked Dad around Day 4 just what he was looking at when he went off to look over the ridge. Dad said he was amazed at this little farm down below them. An elderly lady every morning would come out of her hiding and put up her grape arbor. Then through the days fighting it would get knocked down and then the next day she would be back out putting it back up. He looked at Herb and said “if a little old lady can put up with this s---, and go on every day, so can I.” He said that little old lady gave him strength to go on. It was at that time that Herb felt, if this boy who is wounded can be inspired to go on, then so can he. And that is why he wanted to pass on the story to me. He credited my father with helping him get through.
For my dad’s actions at Mortain, he received a Purple Heart medal, the Bronze Star medal, the Presidential Unit Citation, the French Croix de Guerre, the French Fourragere, and in 2010 the French Legion of Honor. All of a sudden, those ribbon bars and medals that fascinated me so much as a child took on a different meaning and I finally understood what dad meant and why he didn’t want to talk about it. This story is dedicated to the men of Co A 823rd TD Battalion and my dad, Clinton Snyder.
While my dad was always my hero, I now felt he truly was one. Because of his story and lifelong struggle dealing with the lingering effects of his leg wounds, I found my appreciation for all veterans and their personal sacrifices toward our country. I feel we each owe them a debt of gratitude that can never be fully repaid. For this reason I found instances where I could give something back. I organized a recognition ceremony for our county's only POW/MIA during the Vietnam War. When I wrote our borough's history book I was sure to include a section on veterans who were killed from the borough so their sacrifice would not be forgotten, and most recently I have been working on a restoration project of our borough's war memorial.
All my efforts being inspired by my own personal hero: my Dad.