Steve Snyder always considered his father a hero. But it wasn't until after his own retirement, and years after his father's death, that he learned just how much of a story Howard Snyder had to tell.
The younger Snyder, 67, recounts his father's time as a pilot on the B-17 Susan Ruth during World War II in his first book, "Shot Down." The book gives an insightful glimpse into the lives of Howard Snyder and his crew members by sharing intimate diary entries, letters written to loved ones back home and photographs, as well as accounts of historical events, such as when the Susan Ruth was shot down in Belgium on Feb. 8, 1944.
Steve Snyder said it was never his intention to write a book, but when he retired in 2009 after 40 years in sales management, he began researching his father's story and realized that it needed to be told.
"That was pretty incredible," he said. "He wrote a handwritten diary while he was missing in action about the plane going down, which he lost while he was over in Europe but then was found later. I had read that, but I never read the letters my father had written to my mother in England. There were quite a few of those. I knew they had them, but I never looked at them until after I retired.
"It was pretty wonderful sitting there reading those letters, because it was like my dad talking to me from 1943 and 1944. These were his personal thoughts about everything that was going on."
The author said getting into the mind of his father, who died in 2007, helped him cope with the man's death and gave him a new perspective about him.
Like many veterans, Howard Snyder didn't talk in detail about his war experiences, Steve Snyder said, though the son was given a window into some pretty unique events.
"I was really close with my parents," he said. "I had gone over to Belgium in 1994 for the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Belgium and my dad's plane being shot down. Accompanying him on that trip was pretty special. He was the keynote speaker at the ceremonies.
"I knew the basics growing up about his war experiences but not in great detail. He started going over to Belgium when they erected the memorial to my dad and his crew in 1989. He went over for that, as did three other crew members who were living at the time. He started seeing all the places where all the events took place, and it brought everything back to him.
"It was after that that he started talking about the war again. When we went over again in 1994, that really reinforced it."
Snyder also received help writing his story from two Belgian men, Paul Delahaye and Jacques Lalot, who were young boys at the time of the war and became historians when they grew up.
"I don't know if I could have written a book that was as good if it wasn't for those two men, their information and their documentation," he said. "Jacques provided me with a lot of information regarding the events of April 22, when three of my dad's crew, who had evaded capture, were betrayed by Belgian collaborators and the Germans captured them and murdered them. I got the U.S. department of war crimes' investigation report that has these people talking and firsthand testimonies."
Snyder not only writes about his father but also portrays the crew who flew with him on the Susan Ruth. That wasn't always his intention, he said.
"When I got into it, I initially thought it was going to be a book only about my dad," he said. "But as I went further on, I learned this wasn't just about him, but it was also about the other members of the crew. It expanded from there that it's not only about the crew but also these brave Belgian people and how they helped them. The more I delved into it, the more fascinated I became to learn. It just became a passion."
Glenn Holbert, nephew of Susan Ruth flight engineer and prisoner of war Roy Holbert, said it meant a lot to him that Snyder decided to share these details.
"I came across a picture of the crew and got interested because I had heard things but never really heard a lot of details, because my uncle was probably in his 70s before he told anyone about his experiences," he said. "When I read the book ... I found out so many things I didn't know.
The author said he hopes his book helps people remember the importance of World War II and gives a new perspective on the lives of the soldiers.
"People kind of forget about World War II and the memory fades away, but there's no other single event in history that affected more people," he said. "Sixty million people died and so many were displaced. No one was left unaffected by the war, and no country was untouched by the war.
"There were 16 million veterans after the war, and now there are less than 1 million. Pretty soon, they'll be gone. Unless their stories are told, they're going to be forgotten. We can never forget."