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Shot Down: The True Story of Pilot Howard Snyder and the Crew of the B-17 Susan Ruth by Steve Snyder

Gary Pinkerton talks with Steve Snyder, author of Shot Down: The True Story of Pilot Howard Snyder and the Crew of the B-17 Susan Ruth



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Gary Pinkerton hosts Steve Snyder, author of Shot Down: The True Story of Pilot Howard Snyder and the Crew of the B-17 Susan Ruth. As the son of Pilot Howard Snyder, Steve shares some of the stories his father passed on to him as a B-17 pilot. He talks about some of his missions during World War 2. During his research, he learned about why his father’s time was considered The Greatest Generation and their importance to history.

Announcer 0:04
Welcome to the heroic investing show. As first responders we risk our lives every day our financial security is under attack. Our pensions are in a state of emergency. A single on duty incident can alter or erase our earning potential instantly and forever. We are the heroes of society. We are self reliant and we need to take care of our own financial future. The heroic investing show is our toolkit of business and investing tactics on our mission to financial freedom.

Gary Pinkerton 0:39
Welcome to the heroic investing show, a podcast for first responders, members, the military, veterans, and anyone looking to improve their financial future and gain some freedom with their time. We teach America’s heroes how to build passive income, build their startup business and safely grow wealth through real estate and other alternative investments. We have current and prior first responders put protections systems and a team in place to help them build a life where they can focus on their passion, that service or product that they are uniquely gifted to share with others, making the world a better place for all of us. My name is Gary Pinkerton and I co host this show with Jason Hartman. This is Episode 186. For you history buffs out there and those that love literature and love a good book. We’re back to back with two authors. This week we have Steve Snyder, Stephen, his wife, live in Pasadena, California. Steve was a career salesperson sales salesman, and had quite a storied career himself. After retiring, he picked up in a very interesting turn of events, picked up a new mission and that was to research and write a book about his father, Howard Snyder, who was a b 17 pilot. Their aircraft was named the Susan Ruth and his book is called shot down. So he’s an author and a speaker travels the country speaking on this topic, but he’s written one book, unlike our previous guest, Shana Hogan, who has covered many subjects, but Steve’s story is tremendously amazing actually his father’s story, and that of his crew, innovating captured by the Germans in World War Two for months and months, some of them longer than others. But most did survive when they were shot down over Europe. And a lot of it had to do with interacting with the locals being taken in and protected by them. He goes through that story. He goes through actually a discussion with the pilot that shot down that plane. So you can imagine he has years of history, years of effort put into cobbling together all of the information in this book. fascinating book. fascinating story. I think you’ll enjoy this a lot. Please join me. And let’s talk with Mr. Steve Snyder. Well, the rook investors welcome back and think you’re really going to enjoy this episode I have with me today, Steve Snyder, and Steve hails from Southern California. He’ll talk a little bit about his his earlier years, and then we’re gonna jump into now his passion in life and the thing that consumes him in life, which is talking about speaking about and distributing a book that he had written about his father, Howard Snyder, who was a pilot in World War Two b 17. pilot and was shot down. I don’t want to steal the thunder here. Steve, thank you so much for joining us.

Steve Snyder 3:25
My pleasure. I’m glad to be here. Thank you.

Gary Pinkerton 3:29
This is wonderful. So tell us go back a few years, what you were doing before and how you ended up you know, reading this book.

Steve Snyder 3:33
I was born in Pasadena, California, home of the Rose Bowl, and I grew up in Southern California. I lived all my life in Southern California. I went to graduated from UCLA like my mother did. During my career he was involved 40 years in sales and sales management. The last 36 years were with a company called vision service plan. VSP which provides vision care, as an employee benefit the corporation’s offer their employees, eye exams, glasses, contact lenses. And when I retired from that company in 2009, and that’s what I had the time to really delve into my dad’s War history in more detail. At that time, I had no intention at all frightened to book. I just wanted to go through all the material that my parents had kept from the war years to learn more and get more detail. Growing up. I knew the basics of my dad’s World War Two history. You know, he was a b 17 pilot, he was stationed in England. With the eighth Air Force, he flew bombing missions over occupied Europe in Germany. And in 1944, he and his crew were shot down. And he was missing an action for seven months, but he evaded capture in a vein ventually made it back to England. But there were two items that were really significant. One was all the letters that my dad wrote to my mother while he was stationed in England, reading those were absolutely fascinating. He was very candid. In those letters. He talked about bombing missions, what life was like on the base. But life was like in England and London at the time escapades of him and his crew. And then the other item was a diary that my dad wrote while he was missing an action about his plane being shot down, which was absolutely riveting. And it just became my passion. I started reading book after book about the air war over Europe, went on the internet, spent countless hours doing research, downloading the classified military documents, joined a number of world war two organizations listening to veterans tell their stories. And finally, after three years into my research, I just came to the conclusion that the story of my dad and his crew was so unique, and so compelling that it needed to be told people needed to read about it. So I decided to write about

Gary Pinkerton 5:44
Wow, so your research obviously took you to Europe where or these things happened, and how much travel so obviously, you traveled around the US who how many people did you interview and who did you meet that new your father?

Steve Snyder 5:56
Oh, I’ve been to Belgium five times. The first time is in 1994. I actually went with my parents. And that’s when it became personal for me because my dad and his crew, they were shot down over southern Belgium, just north of the French border. And that area of Belgium is a very rural farmland and nothing’s really changed in hundreds of years. So a lots of the houses where he was hidden in are still there today. I was fortunate enough back in 94, to meet a couple of the Belgian people that hit him during the war. They’re all gone now. There was a really unique experience. But I got lots of information naturally from my dad and from the other members of the crew that were survived be 17 had a 10 man crew. Five of them came back home and my dad’s crew but five of them did not do they

Gary Pinkerton 6:46
pass in the crash or

Steve Snyder 6:48
wells era they were attacked by was on a bombing mission to Frankfurt, where they dropped their bombs successfully, but their bomb bay doors got hit by flak. And they couldn’t get him back up. And as a result that caused the dragon the plane they lost their speed and they fell bomb. They started lagging behind the formation, the B 17 formation heading back to England, and they were singled out by two fuckable German fighters. And the ensuing air battle the by dad’s plane was named Susan Ruth after my oldest sister, who was one year old at the time he went overseas, but two of the crew members were killed in the plane. And then the other 88 were able to bail out successfully. And of those eight three were killed on the ground about three months later. So five have made it back something in the books just not about my dad, but it’s about each member of the crew because something different happened to each guy. That’s also about the the amazingly brave Belgium people that risked their lives trying to aid those down. deerman.

Gary Pinkerton 7:48
Yeah. And did they find people who maybe not even just airman but soldiers other than their crew that were doing the same thing? Do they find like a whole network of people or was it just not? Well,

Steve Snyder 7:59
some of them did. Some of them didn’t. After my dad, they held out he came down on some trees and his parachute got hung up in the trees and it was dangling 20 feet off the ground and couldn’t get down. But fortunately for him, a couple of young Belgian men came to his rescue before the Germans got to them. They helped him out of the tree. And it was about one o’clock in the afternoon. They told him to stay there because it was too dangerous to move and in daylight, with the Germans, Roman the areas. So they came back that night, took into a local farmhouse, he stayed there one night, and they thought it was too dangerous for him to stay there any longer than that, because of those German patrols that after that, he was moved around from place to place to place he might spend one night in a house, he might spend six weeks and all depended on how brave the people were, who lived there and how dangerous the Belgium underground thought it was for him to stay there. And he made some dear friends with some of the people that he stayed with lengthy periods of time and kept in touch with after the war. But as I said he was missing an action for seven months and eventually got tired of hiding. It was very stressful, you know, being in hiding, you know, first of all his plane shot down is on fire. He has to bail out. He comes down in a foreign country has no idea where he is. doesn’t know what happened to the other buddies on the crew. He’s been helped by people that he doesn’t know who they are. They can’t speak the same language they really can’t communicate to begin with anyway. Any of those people might be a collaborator and turn them over to the German secret police they get stopped. Oh, and there’s a number of instances that are described in the book where he was almost discovered, but finally got tired of being of hiding. So he decided to join the French Resistance and started sabotaging German convoys. That’s pretty exciting. There’s a number of encounters that the French Resistance group he was with, hey, I did and attacking the Germans.

Gary Pinkerton 9:56
This is a Hogan’s Heroes episode here.

Steve Snyder 9:58
Yeah, it’s you It’s hard to, you know, you say truth is, you know, stranger than fiction. And really, this is but So you mentioned come up as crew member did hook up with other downed Airmen. But as I said, you know, something different happened to each guy. Sure,

Gary Pinkerton 10:14
sure. Now, you mentioned before we started recording that one unique twist of this is that you found the gentleman who shot him down,

Steve Snyder 10:21
right? Well, actually that they were I mentioned they were attacked by two German foxhole fighters. Both of those fighters were shot down in the air battle. One was piloted by Siegfried Merrick, his plane crashed and he died. But the other one was piloted by Hans Berger who bailed out and made it through the war, actually, the gutters on my dad’s plane shot Hans Berger down, so they shot each other down. While I was doing my research, one day, my wife casually asked me Well, why don’t you try to find the German pilot that shot down your dad’s plane, which at the time, I thought was kind of a I didn’t tell her this a stupid idea that, you know, how am I ever going to do that she didn’t really know what she’s talking about. But like a good husband, I did what she told me. And lo and behold, I found Hans Berger, and unfortunately for me, became a translator after the war. So he speaks perfect English. And he gave me some wonderful insight that’s in the book about what it was like to go up against the eighth Air Force during World War Two. Hans is still alive today. He’s 95 years old. He lives in Munich, Germany, and we become friends. Wow.

Gary Pinkerton 11:26
Incredible. What did your father do after the war?

Steve Snyder 11:29
Oh, he did a lot of Toronto and Pasadena for 10 years where he was also the chef. And then he sold that and he got into sales. And he sold a number of different things after that. But he ended his career really involved in what’s called acrostic Machine Company. Back in those days, I don’t know if you know, some of your listeners are will remember the old trading stamp days where your got blue chip, or SM h green stamps when you went to the market? Well, he was in sales. And then he actually owned a little company that made these stamp dispensers, they dial like a telephone. And they sold those two grocery chains throughout the United States and gas station chains. And then he retired from that. And then after he retired, he moved to Sedona, Arizona. So we did quite a few things after the war.

Gary Pinkerton 12:19
So let’s stamp machines. That was like points, right? Like getting points on your credit card nowadays, I think Yeah,

Steve Snyder 12:24
yeah. We buy stamps he had pasted in booklets, and then you redeem and her merchandise. Deal back in the, I guess 60s and 70s.

Gary Pinkerton 12:35
Yeah, I remember doing that. So that’s part of memory. What are some of the other unique aspects of that of that journey you went on?

Steve Snyder 12:43
Well, there’s there’s several things. One, I have to mention, though, that I probably wouldn’t have written a book if it wasn’t for to Belgium gentleman, Dr. Paul delahaye. And Jacques Hello, who were young boys during the war. And they saw the atrocities that the Nazis committed against their families and friends, they were there. And they, it affected him greatly. And later in life, they became local historians. And they interviewed all these Belgium, people and members of the Belgium underground, who were involved in the events concerning my dad and his crew when they documented their testimony. And they provided me with unbelievably detailed information about events that took place and would have been lost forever without their dedicated research. For anyone that reads the book. There’s an amazing amount of detail. When I was writing the book. Sometimes I’d think people are going to read the book, and they’re going to go, Well, how the heck does this guy know all this detail? These events happened 70 years ago. But the books are all based on first hand testimony by the people who are involved in the in the events that took place. There’s over 200 pictures in the book two time period photographs, many, many taken by Belgium, people in Belgium during 1944. So we can visualize everything that you’re reading about, which is pretty unique. 

Gary Pinkerton 13:57
It’s fantastic. He told me that the book had won numerous awards, talk about that a little

Steve Snyder 14:02
the book was released in August of 2014. It’s one, I guess, about 30 Awards. Now it says a five star rating on on Amazon. I make PowerPoint presentations to all sorts of different organizations throughout the US and I go to air shows around the US signing copies of my book, and that’s really gratifying because I get to meet so many people that tell the story and hear their stories. And that’s a lot of fun. It’s it. I guess you can kind of tell from the way I talked and pretty excited about this whole thing. Yeah, I passed. And I love doing it. It’s changed my life. You know, I retired from VSP in 2009. And for a while I was just you know, I guess a typical retiree taking naps and sleeping in late taking walks and reading and now I basically worked full time promoting my book and being involved in the book. It’s really fun. I don’t know how long Continue to do this. But as long as I’m having fun, it’s great. I get to meet lots of veterans, where we’re two veterans. So that’s very rewarding as well.

Gary Pinkerton 15:11
Yeah. Isn’t it amazing when you find a passion, how how much it changes, just your outlook and your work ethic. And I just think it’s fantastic. Like I talked to people about this all the time that when you find something you love to do, it’s better across the board, you’re you’re healthier, you’re more active, your mind is going right? You’re, you’re not on the list anymore of those that are going to get, you know, get dementia. Because you’re just an actor. Yeah, that’s fantastic. Gosh, your Does your wife travel around with you into a lot of these?

Steve Snyder 15:43
Oh, well, if I go to, you know, certain places, if I go to like New Orleans, or New York or Savannah, or, yeah, she’ll go with me. But if I go to, you know, smaller cities in the Midwest, Chicago, you just go by yourself. So they’re kind of destinations, she’ll go with me, but she just lets me go. I traveled about, oh, gosh, the last 25 years I was involved with VSP, I traveled about 50% of the time, so she’s used to be being gone. So I’m really just traveling a lot. Again. When I first retired, she was worried I was gonna, you know, get in her hair and be under fetal her scarf.

Gary Pinkerton 16:25
You’ve had an opportunity to meet so many incredible patriots that were Americans, you know, they call them the greatest generation, right? So what can you take away from people of that era? How would you characterize

Steve Snyder 16:37
well, without a doubt, in my opinion, they were the greatest generation. While at the end of World War Two, there were 16 million veterans. And today, there are less than 4% of those men still with us, and they’re diminishing at a rapid pace. There was no other event in history that affected more people than World War 260 million people died, millions more were wounded, and millions more were left homeless and displaced. Those brave young men who fought and died or for freedom, like I said, are the greatest generation and we can never forget their sacrifice. My motto is, it’s our duty to remember. And, you know, it’s 75 years since my dad was shot down. And those memories are kind of fading. And really, I look as a kind of my job is, or my passion is, you know, the book, but it’s also to remember, honor and educate, to remember the air war over Europe to honor the men who fought it, and to educate the public about it, especially younger generations. Because, you know, we just can’t forget those times. They A lot of people don’t realize that at the beginning of the war, it was really touch and go whether, you know, we were going to be able to win that war. At the end, the world, that course of the world in the US was changed forever as a result of World War Two. You know, the younger generations, I think, you know, they I don’t know how much they get taught this in school, but they just need to be reminded and educated about it. And take a little bit for granted. Right? Yeah. So people who are my age know somebody, you know, I had, I had uncles, well, my father had six members of his fam six boys in his family, and all of them went to World War Two. They spread the gamut of services. And one was at, you know, the Bataan Death March and he was gone for quite a few years. I don’t know how long it took to find him and get him back. But he never really talked about it. My father talks about the war a bit. But yeah, I mean, ever all of my uncles who are in that war is not an experience that people get nowadays, you know, and you made a comment. It’s so true, because most of world war two veterans did not talk about the war. Yeah, my dad didn’t talk about a lot until 1989. When a memorial was built in the little village of makan was Belgium, in my dad, and the three other crew members that were living at the time went over for the dedication. And there he was reunited with all those Belgian people that hit him during the war, you know, revisited those homes, and that brought it all back. And that’s when he started talking about it. But most of the people that I talked to know very little about their vet because they didn’t talk about the war. And when most of us were young, we’re interested in doing our own thing, and we don’t ask questions, and then when we finally realize or become interested in our vets gone, so most people don’t know much about what their vet did during the war, whether it’s a son or daughter, grandchild, nephews, you know, what have you.

Gary Pinkerton 19:38
Yeah, well, that’s sad. But thankfully, people like you are writing books and movies and articles and keeping photos around and that is going to be a very important part as time sets on on our last Greatest Generation out there.

Steve Snyder 19:50
Yeah, pretty soon they’ll be all gone. And that’ll that’ll be a sad day. I I’m in the process of trying to make a documentary about the movie. Gone do in film The hours and hours of footage in Belgium and have also gone to Munich, Germany where huntzberger lived and filmed an interview with him. So hopefully that will come to fruition someday.

Gary Pinkerton 20:12
Wow. Would you’ve at least captured it? Yeah. Awesome. Gosh. Well, Steve, thank you so much for joining our group. Any other suggestions? Or last thoughts? Please also give your website.

Steve Snyder 20:23
Okay. Well, my website is Steve Snyder author.com. And you can get an autographed book, if anyone’s interested in that by going to the homepage, you my website, but it’s available on Amazon is well, and it’s available in as a print book, soft hardcover ebook and also as an audio book, although the audio book doesn’t have any pictures, so you miss out 200 time period photographs, far as last thoughts are concerned. As I said, it’s, it’s a project that I love. And you know, I had no idea when I retired that my life would change so dramatically. As a result of writing this book it is but as you mentioned, once you get involved in something that you’re excited about, and I’m passionate about it, it just really makes your life exciting. Yeah, you get up every day ready to go and just ready to do more and more and more. It really motivates you to keep going in life.

Gary Pinkerton 21:21
Yeah, I mean, you’re a testament to continue searching for that thing. That is your passion, right? That thing that defines meaning in your life. That’s pretty awesome. And we’ll see how you

Steve Snyder 21:31
might never know what it is.

Gary Pinkerton 21:33
Right? Right. Don’t die with music inside. Right. I think it’s coming out.

Gary Pinkerton 21:38
Well, thank you so much, Steve, for joining heroic investing.

Steve Snyder 21:41
Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thanks a lot for having me on.

Announcer 21:46
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