WHEELING - In early January 1943, the United States Third Army was assembled on the large terrace in front of Peover Hall near Knutsford, England. Before them stood a man in a tailored, brass-buttoned battle jacket with four rows of battle ribbons and decorations.
On his legs were riding breeches and polished, high-topped boots with spurs. Around his waist was an old-fashioned leather belt with a large, shiny brass buckle, and he carried a long riding crop with a hidden sword in it. Fifteen stars in total were placed on his shirt collar, helmet and shoulders.
"I've been given command of the Third Army for reasons which will become clear later on," he said. The reason he spoke of was called Operation Overlord, through which the Allies would sweep through Europe and defeat Nazi Germany. His name was General George S. Patton.
Among the men gathered was a young man from Wheeling. Thanks to a speech impediment, Eddie Snyder had hated school.
He was working in carpentry when he received his draft papers. The U.S. Army selected him for the Third Army's 35th Medical Corps because it needed men to build sinks, operating tables and everything needed for surgery.
"School was hell for him," said Snyder's nephew, Jim Marple. "He had a speech impediment, but he was a genius. He hated school because he was so self-conscious."
While working as a builder, Eddie Snyder met the unit doctors and nurses and developed an interest in the medical side of his service. His superiors recognized a high degree of intelligence in him and wanted to keep him on the team permanently as an anesthesiologist. His initial deployment was aboard the Queen Mary, one of a few civilian ships pressed into service during the war because she could outrun a German battleship.By the end of the war, Eddie Snyder had given 35,000 injections to soldiers.
Throughout the Third Army's campaign, Eddie Snyder set up and maintained a dark room in the field hospital so he could develop and print photos. From training in Tennessee to the Normandy Coast to the capture of Hitler's Eagle's Nest to celebrations with Ingrid Bergman and Donald O'Connor, Snyder's camera caught it all.
Patton insisted that the 35th had to move every couple of days to avoid being spotted and targeted by Nazi bombers. For that reason, all medical equipment for the regiment had to be collapsible and portable.
Eddie's brother, Earl, was also serving in the Third Army, but not with the medical corps.
"What Uncle Earl did in the war was remarkable," Marple said. "He was a wire man."
During World War II, a wire man's job was to go ahead of the army as it moved and lay down wire for radio communications. He often had to go out to the edge of the front lines with wire, usually while under fire.
The Third Army was not a defensive one. Patton did not believe in defensive tactics. He often told his soldiers, "When in doubt, attack."
As such, the Third Army constantly took the fight to the Nazis at every opportunity, always on the offensive. As such, Earl Snyder often got closer to the enemy than anyone else. During the Third Army's entire offensive campaign through Europe, over 50 percent of Earl Snyder's division was lost.
Marple recalled how after the war, many people ridiculed the Germans as a foolish and brutish people with no brains. His uncle Earl never agreed with them, however.
"Uncle Earl said the Germans were brilliant," Marple noted.
Eddie and Earl met five times during the war. The first time was in England, when Earl was being treated for a broken leg. Later on they met in Germany, where the mud and the enemy had bogged down Earl's unit. They had no showers and were dirty, muddy and tired. Eddie took Earl to a field hospital for a shower, shave, haircut, new uniform and new shoes. When he returned to his regiment, Earl's comrades thought he was a spy at first because he was so clean.
Having been an "A" student and a football player in high school, Earl had kept playing while in the service. This hobby actually caused his absence from one of the most crucial engagements of the war. Having suffered a knee injury while playing football in England, Earl missed the Invasion of Normandy.
The Third Army advanced through France, Belgium and Germany and suffered casualties amounting to roughly 12.97 percent of those they inflicted on their enemy. Among Eddie's collection of photos, there is one of him seated on the mountaintop where Hitler's Eagle Nest refuge stood. In another, he holds a sign that reads, "Hitler doesn't live here anymore."
The Third Army's final campaign across the Danube River to Czechoslovakia and Austria was finally halted by the official end of the war in Europe at 12:01 a.m. on May 9, 1945.
Eddie and Earl Snyder survived World War II and returned home to resume their lives in America. Eddie worked at the former Wheeling Downs as a builder. He married Alice Stromski and moved to California, where he worked for Harvis Enterprises Ltd. and eventually became senior superintendent.
"Uncle Eddie was very, very successful," said Marple.
After the war, Earl Snyder ran a few businesses but never married. He used to run Snyder's Bar on McColloch Street, and his generosity is still remembered. Marple recalled how a woman he did not recognize had shown up at his uncle Earl's funeral. When he asked who she was, she said she had been among a group of students Earl had taken to Oglebay Park years earlier. All expenses, including the bus rental and any admission fees, came from Earl's own pocket.
"Since he had no children, at some point Uncle Eddie started documenting his war years," said Marple.
One of his last wishes was that his collection of war photos be published into a book so that future generations could view and appreciate them. The book was published by Judith V. Wood Illustration as a personal favor together with the efforts of Jennifer Vessels, who organized much of it. At this time, only two copies of the book exist. One is kept by the family, while Marple shared the other copy with the Wheeling News-Register.