|Wilburn L. Snyder|
January 23, 1923|
Plain Dealing, Bossier Parish, Louisiana, USA
|Died||May 13, 2008
Houston, Harris County, Texas
|Residence||Baytown (Harris and Chambers counties), Texas|
(1) Florence Snyder (deceased)
(3) Snyder's experiences are recalled by Donald Knox in the book Death March: The Survivors of Bataan.(4) Years after his oppression, Snyder went to Japan on four missionary trips.
Snyder was born in Plain Dealing in Bossier Parish in northwestern Louisiana to Mary and G.A. Hammer. He graduated in 1940 from Lee High School in Baytown, and attended Lee College, a community college in Baytown, and then the University of Houston.
Snyder was so eager to join the United States Army that he claimed to have been a year older than his actual age. In June 1940, he wanted to "get in on the ground floor” of a second world conflict which seemed imminent to many. "I was seventeen. I went by myself and enlisted," Snyder said. His parents were reluctant to give their consent and regretted having done so when Snyder was declared missing in action at Bataan.
After serving fifteen months at Fort Crockett in Galveston, Snyder was deployed to the Philippines as a combat medic in the 3rd Battalion of the 31st Infantry. From that outfit of twenty-nine men, he was one of five who returned to the United States.
On Snyder’s death at the age of eighty-five, the Houston Chronicle quoted his daughter, Theda Cuellar of Houston: "He had no hatred towards those people. As a Christian, he put away all that hatred, but he wanted people to know what they went through." Cuellar said that her father suffered twice from malaria during the internment and was left for dead, but a United States Army buddy stole medicine from the Japanese invaders and nursed Snyder to health.
After American forces under General Edward P. King, surrendered on April 9, 1942, Snyder, along with some 12,000 American and 68,000 Filipino defenders of the Bataan peninsula, was forced to march sixty-eight miles over fourteen days to the prison camp. On this journey, a large number of the soldiers, denied food and water by the Japanese, perished. In surrendering, King disobeyed orders, but Snyder and other captives contended that the general had no alternative. Snyder said that the surrender was respected by the men who were afflicted from a lack of food, quinine, medicine, and ammunition.
"I think it was one of the bravest things for him [General King] to do. He risked his whole military career when he did that because he did it against orders. He’s a tremendous man in my eyes. He saved about 12,000 Americans' lives," said Snyder in a Memorial Day 2007 interview with his hometown Baytown Sun newspaper.
In his own words, Snyder recalled the Death March:
"Any troops who fell behind were executed. Japanese troops beat soldiers randomly, and denied the POWs food and water for many days. One of their tortures was known as the sun treatment. The Philippines in April is very hot. Therefore, the POWs were forced to sit in the sun without any shade, helmets, or water. Anyone who dared ask for water was executed. On the rare occasion they were given any food, it was only a handful of contaminated rice. When the prisoners were allowed to sleep for a few hours at night, they were packed into enclosures so tight that they could barely move. Those who lived collapsed on the dead bodies of their comrades. For only a brief part of the march would POWs be packed into railroad cars and allowed to ride. Those who did not die in the suffocating boxcars were forced to march about seven more miles until they reached their camp. It took the POWs over a week to reach their destination."
Snyder said that the march could have been easily achieved had the men been in good physical condition and not denied sustenance. "It was the condition that we were in that made it... a death sentence." Snyder said that he and his comrades could barely walk a few steps without seeing another dead body. They saw so many of their friends die... I know this sounds hard to believe, but we actually got used to death," Snyder recalled.
In the spring of 1982, NBC aired a documentary, "Bataan: the Forgotten Hell", to observe the 40th anniversary of the march and recall the brutalities inflicted on the captives. Japan had refused to sign the 1929 Geneva Convention Relating to the Treatment of POWs. Nearly half of the men died of dehydration and heat exhaustion.
With the end of the war, Sndyer and 105 other prisoners were liberated on August 15, 1945. Years after his captivity, Snyder attended a military reunion in the Philippines. Donald Knox, in the book Death March: The Survivors of Bataan (New York: Harcourt Brace Inc., 1981), recalls Snyder having asked his Filipino guide why a particular group of children was holding the “V” for victory sign to the visiting American veterans. “What do those little kids know about that sign?”, Snyder asked. The guide replied, “They may not know how to read and write, but they know about Bataan.”
After the war, Snyder returned to the Houston area and worked as a pipefitter for Ethyl Corporation. A co-worker conducted a Bible study group in which Snyder agreed to participate. He had not been a Christian during his military service. He had described his personal anger as essential to having overcome the odds against survival at Bataan. On being converted to Christianity and called to the ministry, Snyder said that he believed that God instilled anger in him to bring him through Bataan.
Over the years, Snyder served as pastor of various Houston area Baptist churches, including Kashmere Garden, Northwood Manor, East Houston, and Candlestick.
First unable to forget the suffering that he endured as a prisoner, Snyder harbored a strong hatred for the men who showed no mercy to him and other captive Americans and Filipinos. "When I got back [to the United States], if I had the power to push a button and sink every island in Japan, that’s what I would have done. But since the Lord’s been in my life, I’ve been back to Japan four times to preach to them. I love them."
Snyder died in the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Houston. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Florence. In addition to daughter Theda Cuellar, survivors include his second wife, Lan’l Snyder of Baytown; sons, Kyle Snyder of Goliad, David Smith of Crosby, and Gregg Smith of Baytown; other daughter, Renae Haskins of Pasadena, Texas; three brothers, Alva John Hammer of Baytown and C.J. Snyder and Michael Snyder of Louisiana; and three sisters, Margaret A. Selzler of Raeford, North Carolina, Judy Marie Snyder Knippers (born ca. 1950) and husband William C. “Buddy” Knippers of Dry Prong in Grant Parish, and Faye Harris of Louisiana.
- The Baytown Sun
- Migration of doom...Bataan Death March
- Michael Botson of Houston, Wilburn Snyder guest book, Houston Chronicle.com
- American Ex-Prisoners of War Organization