Captain Howard Snyder
Today CN Salutes Captain Howard Snyder, first pilot of the B-17 Susan Ruth. His son, Steve Snyder is president of the 306th Bomb Group Historical Association and author of SHOT DOWN: The true story of his father, Howard Snyder, and the crew of the B-17 Susan Ruth. Howard Snyder was a 1st Lieutenant in the 8th Air Force, 306th Bomb Group/369th Bomb Squadron and after returning to the States, Snyder achieved the rank of Captain.
It is an honor to have Steve Snyder share his father’s heroic story of his miraculous survival and his time MIA, hiding from the Germans after the B-17 Susan Ruth was shot down over Belgium on February 8, 1944.
What were his duties?
He was the first pilot and commander of the B-17 Susan Ruth and its crew.
What was the training and prep for his MOS?
After volunteering for the Army Air Corps in June 1942, he went through pre-flight training at Santa Ana Army Air Base in Santa Ana, CA where he qualified to enter pilot training. He then went through the three phases of piloting training; Primary Pilot Training at Santa Maria, CA where he soloed; Basic Pilot Training at Lemoore, CA and Marana, AZ; and then to Advanced Pilot Training at Douglas, AZ where he graduated and received his pilot’s wings and his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in April 1943. From there, he went through transitional training where he learned to fly a four-engine B-17 bomber at Pyote, TX and then to Operational Crew Training at Dalhart, TX where the various members of the crew came together and learned to operate as a team. Finally on October 21, 1943, the crew reported to the 306th Bomb Group at Thurleigh, England.
What did he like most about serving?
Until he got into combat, it was the excitement of being part of a great cause and seeing new places. Back then, the U.S. was more of a rural country and many young men, many only boys, had never even been out of their own town or county. All of a sudden, they were sent to bases all over the country to train and then halfway around the world to serve. As my father wrote in a letter to my mother, “We are having a good time. If it weren’t for the fact of being away from you, Princess, I would not miss this for the world. I suppose I will wish before long that I was back home, but right now it is pretty exciting, not knowing what kind of country we are going to fly over next. The suspense of the unknown is exhilarating. After being a home boy for so long and finally having something like this happen is like a book, only I wish it could have happened before I met you.”
What prompted him to serve?
He enlisted in the Army in April 1941 as a result of President Franklin Roosevelt’s implementation of the first peacetime draft in U.S. history in the fall of 1940. After a year of being in the Infantry at Ft. Lewis, Washington, My father volunteered to join the Army Air Corps. He did so to make more money to support his new bride and baby on the way. If he could make it through Pilot Training, he would become an officer and make a lot more money than a private’s pay in the Army.
The greatest challenge he faced?
While on a bombing mission to Frankfurt, Germany, the B-17’s bomb bay doors were hit by flak (anti-aircraft fire) and the crew could not get them back up. This caused a drag on the plane, and it lost air speed. As a result, the plane fell behind the B-17 bomber formation heading back to England, and it was singled out by two German Focke-Wulf fighter planes. In the ensuing air battle, the B-17 Susan Ruth was shot down.
The plane was named after his first born daughter. How did that come about?
As the first pilot and commander of his B-17 bomber and its crew, he had the final say on what their plane was named. Of the ten man crew, only three were married, and he was the only one who had a child. I assume the crew mutually agreed that it would be fitting to name their plane after his daughter, Susan Ruth. My mother’s name was Ruth.
When he got to his first station in England, he talked about nose art on the planes. Did this make a plane stick out in anyway in the air? Did it make American pilots more of a target?
Nose art did not have any effect on planes being shot down. The enemy was well educated and trained to identify American planes. The 8th Air Force flew high altitude, daylight, precision bombing missions over occupied Europe and Germany using B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators which flew in combat box formations comprised of hundreds of planes. The Germans had radar stations set up along the continental coast of Europe and were well aware when these formations were coming.
He ended up fighting the war even MIA with the underground resistance. A brief summary of this. Did he still have relationships with those who hid him?
After the B-17 Susan Ruth was shot down on February 8, 1944, my father was missing in action for seven months, but he evaded capture. He was hidden by numerous members of the Belgian Underground for a few months but then got tired of hiding and joined the French Resistance called the Maquis. As a result of his year’s training in the Infantry, he knew how to fight on the ground. The Maquis were small independent groups of guerrilla fighters who harassed the Germans by disrupting communication lines, sabotaging railway lines, attacking German convoys, and assassinating German officers. When U.S. General George Patton’s 3rd Army came up through France after D-Day, my father met up with them in the village of Trelon, France on September 2, 1944 and made it back to England.
My father did keep in touch with most of the Belgian people who helped him through letters and Christmas cards. He and my mother also made several trips to Belgium and visited many of his helpers with the highlight being the dedication of a memorial to the crew of the B-17 Susan Ruth in 1989.
When your father was missing in action how did your mother get through it?
It was extremely hard for my mother, Ruth. During the time my father was missing in action, Susan Ruth was one year old and my other sister, Nancy, was born. So there my mother was with a one year old and a newborn not knowing if her husband was alive or dead.
Getting a loan from her parents for the down payment on a small house in Pasadena, CA, she lived off the money my father sent home. Ruth had been an elementary school teacher for about 6 months before Susan was born, but back then a pregnant woman wasn’t allowed to continue teaching.
She probably received some help from her parents and my father’s parents who all lived fairly close by. I know my dad’s father helped her out around the house and ran errands for her. She also had 4 siblings who gave her much needed support as well. Ruth also had a strong Christian faith which gave her comfort and strength.
What was his most rewarding experience?
Making it back to England in one piece and returning to his family back home which then included a second daughter, Nancy, who was born while he was missing in action.
Did your father have any advice to someone thinking about serving their country?
My father was very proud to have served his country and fought to preserve freedom. Like all World War II veterans, he was very patriotic and loved his country. He believed that when duty called, everyone should serve.
THANK YOU CAPTAIN HOWARD SNYDER AND THE MEMBERS OF THE CREW OF B-17 SUSAN RUTH FOR YOUR SERVICE!
Be sure to check out the full story in Shot Down! I highly recommend this book. It is both a tribute to courageous soldiers and a great read of a piece of history during World War II. Steve’s website is http://SteveSnyderAuthor.com
Belgium … February 8, 1944 … Shot Down and Alive
For the first time, the full and complete story of the B-17 Flying Fortress Susan Ruth is shared in unbelievable detail. Author Steve Snyder’s story of his father, Lieutenant Howard Snyder, and the Susan Ruth crew, provides in-depth details about many aspects of World War II few understand or know about including the:
• separation for young families as men went off to war;
• training before heading to foreign soil;
• military combat operations;
• underground and resistance and what Lt. Snyder did when he joined it;
• German atrocities toward captured crew and civilians;
• behind-the-scenes stories of the Belgium civilians who risked all to save American flyers who were in the air one moment, spiraling down in flames the next;
• creation and dedication of the monument to the Susan Ruth and its crew located in Macquenoise.