World War II Veterans take a look back at Lookout Brewing Co.
Hours before the nation proudly celebrated the men and women who served in the U.S. Armed Forces with patriotic parades and ceremonies, the words of Earl Snypes pierced the silence in a room in Lookout Brewing Co.
While Veterans Day focused on celebration and remembrance, Snypes and fellow World War II Veteran Art Lindsay, recalled a time in their lives that they will never forget.
Snypes was a young man in Buncombe County in April of 1944 when he learned he’d been drafted into the U.S. Army as the Second World War was well into its fifth year.
The Ridgecrest resident reported to Fort Bragg before taking a train ride to Georgia, where he, alongside hundreds of men his age, learned to handle weapons that they would soon use in combat.
“I was in the heavy weapons,” he said, as he spoke during an event organized by Black Mountain Veterans Weston Hall and Mike Ogus. The panel was emceed by retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Operation Specialist Ted Horan. “We had heavy machine guns, mortars and the rifle with the carbine.”
Seventeen weeks later, he was bound for New York, by way of Maryland.
“We went down to the docks and there were two big ships: The Queen Elizabeth and the Mauretania,” Snypes said. “They’d just brought in a bunch of prisoners. They shipped them to the U.S. to better take care of them.”
Days later, the young soldiers would board the HMS Mauretania and make the five-day journey to Liverpool, England.
“There were maybe four or five thousand American soldiers, around 2,000 Canadians and many Army nurses on the ship,” he said. “We passed the Statue of Liberty on our way out to the (Atlantic Ocean).”
Snypes entry into the European Theater took him through northern France, months after the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
“As we went up the road, over to our right, you could see the American cemetery where the ones who were killed during that invasion were buried,” he said.
The harsh realities of war continued to unfold, as a miscommunication of orders led the troops to an unoccupied French countryside.
“We had no food or supplies,” Snypes said. “Some of the fellas went down to the beach and stole a duck, which was an army vehicle that goes on land and water. They loaded up a bunch of stuff and on their way back to us they ran out of gas and had to carry the stuff to us. It took them several days to get us on a train to get us to camp.”
They arrived to find the camp was closed.
“They’d closed the day before, and there was only one sergeant there,” Snypes said. “He found a bunch of Spam, and that’s what we ate. It didn’t sit too well with us.”
Weeks would pass before Snypes was sent to Acchen, Germany.
“The (1st Infantry Division) had taken it, about a week before we got in,” he said. “There, they sorted us out into what regiment and company we would be in. We got onto the front lines on Nov. 25, 1944.”
Snypes was assigned to Company K of the 26th Regiment.
“As we got into the company area, the Germans were dropping mortar shells in,” he said. “One of the guys I trained with was wounded. He was a sergeant and he was going, that next day, to be commissioned as a second lieutenant. He was killed.”
Snypes would find himself in Belgium and fought on snow-covered battlefields through the month of December, including a successful pushback of a three-day onslaught by German forces. He narrowly survived a shelling in the middle of the night.
“We couldn’t move around in the day because they could see us,” he said. “So one night, the sergeant called me and told me it was my turn to take the utensils back to the kitchen, about a mile or two away. As I got out of my foxhole to go down there, I saw a light shining from another foxhole.”
Snypes shouted a warning to put the light out.
“No sooner than I said that, I heard a shell coming,” he said. “My first thought was to jump in a hole nearby, but I didn’t do it. I just laid down beside it. That shell took out a nearby hemlock tree.”
Another round followed.
“I ran to my foxhole and dove in, with chunks of frozen dirt coming up after me,” he said. “My sergeant came out to check on everything and he found a foxhole that had been hit, and there were three men in it. Two of my friends were killed.”
As Snypes was on his way to Europe, Lindsay enlisted in the U.S. Navy.
“I reported for duty in Atlanta, Georgia on July 4, 1944,” Lindsay said. “I was discharged in May of 1946.”
The Black Mountain resident grew up in Greenville, S.C., where he dreamed of becoming a pilot. He was told the Naval Air Corps. was not accepting new recruits for the pilot training program. He enrolled in an air crew program.
“I opted for aviation radioman, and I signed the dotted line,” he said. “I had two weeks to report.”
Lindsay completed the six-week boot camp and attended training at the Naval Air Technical Training Center, near Memphis.
“There were thousands of us there,” he said. “They had like 20 classes of 60 people for the radios. There was an equivalent group for the ordinance and an equivalent group for mechanics at this base.”
Lindsay learned Morse code.
“Back in those days, voice radio that the pilots used were only good for 50 miles,” he said. “Folks who live on the internet nowadays would find that unbelievable. Everything else was done by Morse code.”
He attended gunnery school near Corpus Christi, Texas where he would spend four months working the radio in the upper level of an enormous hanger.
“While Earl was overseas, I was a base radioman,” he said. “It was good practice because I could type, and we had three big radios in there. Early in the morning, crews would be assigned to take training flights and the radioman would go on and send a message about what time they were scheduled to leave. When they landed in the water, the radioman would send a signal that they were in the water. They sent a message every step along the way and I had to type it out and send the message.”
Near the end of the war, he was sent to Pennsylvania to attend a pilot training program.
“I was there when the war ended,” he said. “They offered us the opportunity to sign up for the pilot training program, but I decided I didn’t want to make a career out of the military.”
After the war, Lindsay was sent to San Francisco, where he was placed on an auxiliary aircraft carrier.
“I went out under the Golden Gate Bridge, six months later I flew back in over it and later I went over it on a bus,” he said. “So I crossed that bridge all three ways.”
As the 26th Infantry Regiment kept guard over the Nuremberg trials, which prosecuted prominent leaders of the Nazi party after the war, Snypes found himself sitting in.
“I went one or two times and sat in to see what was going on,” he said. “Those Germans weren’t so big then. They were sitting there wondering what would happen to them, and they found out.”
Snypes and Lindsay both returned home in 1946, but their memories of the war remain vivid more than seven decades later. Keeping those stories alive is crucial, Horan told the audience at the conclusion of the presentation.
“We are a small community here in Black Mountain, and to have Earl and Art still in our presence to share their stories is amazing,” he said. “What we learned today is the living history. These gentlemen stood up and did what they did for our country. That’s why veterans do what we do.”