America’s oldest World War II vet remembered as ‘a Texas legend’
AUSTIN, Texas — Richard Overton was buried in a field…
SILVER SPRING, Md. — Nearly 80 years ago, Paul Snyder answered the call to serve his country.
Nearly 40 years later, Jonathan Walker did likewise.
Today, both men are “called by God to serve brothers and sisters in Christ through the fruits of the Spirit,” said Walker, a veteran U.S. Marine Corps sergeant who met Snyder, a former U.S. Army master sergeant, in Bible class at the Silver Spring Church of Christ nine years ago.
Walker, 56, decided to sit by Snyder in a Bible class taught by Earl West Sr. and struck up a conversation. He learned that Snyder, 99, was the longest-serving deacon and treasurer in the congregation, which meets in this suburb of Washington. Snyder was present at the 1954 groundbreaking ceremony for the church’s current building.
The two brothers in Christ became fast friends. Both served in the military, and both were introduced to Churches of Christ by the women they married. Walker learned that Snyder had served in the Pacific during World War II, so he shared with Snyder his six-month tour of duty at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan in 1986.
“Also, I talked about my visit to the Hiroshima museum in Japan as well as my visit to the Philippines,” Walker said.
Snyder had been to both countries during the war, he told Walker. After Hiroshima, he was assigned to occupied Japan to oversee the money in its bank vaults. At one point, he was in charge of nearly 23 million Japanese yen.
Walker had to know more.
Walker asked Snyder to let him record a video of his story. That video is now registered with the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress.
In the 34-minute video, Snyder, a quiet, spiritual man who talks barely above a whisper, shares his childhood in Pennsylvania. When his older brother enrolled in school, Snyder cried because he wanted to go with him, he said, though he was only 4. His mother consented, and he graduated at age 16. He learned typing and shorthand at a college in Connellsville, where he displayed a keen aptitude for finance and accounting.
He graduated valedictorian of his class. He got a job in Harrisburg, Pa., and had just married the love of his life, Kay, when his draft number came up in 1942. He spent two years at Bolling Field in Washington and continued to study finance. His wife worked for Westinghouse and at one point during the war made fuses for hand grenades.
As the Battle of the Bulge raged in Europe, Snyder was transferred to an infantry unit as a staff sergeant and trained at Camp Gordon in Georgia for 13 weeks to become a squad leader.
“I got orders to go to the Philippines,” Snyder said. “I was sick every day in the troopship. I will never forget going under the Golden Gate Bridge. I looked back … until I could not see it anymore.”When he arrived in Manila Harbor, “there were ships everywhere,” he said. His commanding officers were more interested in his ability to handle money than his skills with a weapon. They assigned him to a financial division, where he soon was promoted to master sergeant, equivalent to a chief clerk.
After the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Japanese surrender, Snyder was stationed in Japan as U.S. forces began the long task of disarming and rebuilding the devastated country. Snyder was in charge of the office that converted yen to dollars and vice-versa. As U.S. troops entered and departed from Japan, these conversions were frequent. At one point, Snyder transported 23 million yen across town, accompanied by several guards.
In January 1946, Snyder began the long journey home. His ship had nearly reached Hawaii when one of the men contracted smallpox. The troops were delayed for two weeks as 5,000 were vaccinated.
Finally, they reached Seattle. Snyder caught a train to Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania, where he was discharged. He moved to the Washington area, residing on South Capitol Street near the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, and spent 30 years working for the Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association.
His wife grew up in Churches of Christ in Oklahoma. Kay Snyder “played a major role in Paul’s conversion into the body of Christ,” Walker said. The couple began worshipping with the Southeast Church of Christ in Washington in 1947.
They placed membership with the Silver Spring congregation in 1951 and helped it grow into a 300-member, ethnically diverse church. They were married for 63 years and raised two sons before Kay Snyder’s death in 2005.
Jonathan Walker said he’s eternally thankful that the Lord guided him to sit by Paul Snyder in that Bible class nine years ago.
Reflecting on his friend’s life, Walker said, “Brother Snyder was proud to serve our country, but there is always a fear of losing your life — if drafted into the infantry — on the front lines of a war. God placed him at the right place at the right time. It shows the resilience of a Christian. I still think it has a lot to do with his prayer life.”
“Brother Snyder was proud to serve our country, but there is always a fear of losing your life … on the front lines of a war. God placed him at the right place at the right time. It shows the resilience of a Christian.”
Walker sees God at work in his own life as well. He met his wife, Easther, while he served at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in California as an electrical-mechanical technician. She invited him to worship with the Lynwood Church of Christ.
Walker developed a passion for Bible study and teaching, which led him to pursue an undergraduate electrical engineering degree at Howard University, a master’s in biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins and a doctorate in transportation engineering at Virginia Tech.
“I pray and study without ceasing when writing a lesson for an adult Bible class — as if I were preparing for a college exam,” Walker said. “Christ is the scholarly professor, the Bible is a 2-inch physics book and the Holy Spirit is a tutor.”
In November, Jonathan and Easther Walker celebrate their 34th anniversary. A few weeks later, on Dec. 5, Snyder celebrates his 100th birthday.
As he approaches his centennial year, Snyder told The Christian Chronicle that he’s thankful for the good fortune God has given him.
“He was just so good to me,” Snyder said, “and I thank God every day.”
As for his friendship with Walker, Snyder said, “He is quite a guy. I have never had anyone treat me like brother Walker.”
Subscribe today to receive more inspiring articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox twice a month.
Your donation helps us not only keep our quality of journalism high, but helps us continue to reach more people in the Churches of Christ community.