NORTH ROYALTON – Army Sgt. William Snyder never lived to see the day he would receive the Purple Heart, but a local veteran made sure Snyder received all the honor and recognition he was due this Memorial Day for his service and sacrifice during World War II.
Wally Ohler, the veterans’ liaison for the city, surprised Snyder's family with a special presentation of the medal following the formal VFW memorial at the cemetery and Ohler’s Fallen Heroes ceremony at the old city hall May 25.
Snyder’s son Scott accepted the medal and was overcome with emotion.
“Incredible. Absolutely incredible,” Snyder said.
His father, he said, would have been a little embarrassed by all the attention but would have treasured the medal.
“He would be in tears like I am. He would have accepted it for all the men that didn’t make it home,” Snyder said.
When cleaning out his father’s things, Scott Snyder came across a new wheelchair his father never used. He was adamant it go to a fellow veteran. Eventually, he was put in touch with Ohler.
Snyder happened to share a few stories about his father. William Snyder was a mechanic, which he told his superiors upon being enlisted.
“They said, ‘what do you do?’ And he told them he fixed cars. They said, ‘You’re a medic. Now you fix people,’ and off he went to the Philippines,” his son said.
During his tour, a comrade was significantly injured on a tank. Snyder came to his aid, but the pair were fired upon again, injuring Snyder’s leg and causing him to lose sight in one eye. Snyder worked to treat his comrade until help arrived, despite his own injuries.
“This is amazing. That’s a generation that didn’t want to talk about it,” Scott’s wife Trish said.
Memorial Day is a holiday meant to memorialize all the men and women who died serving the nation.
A ceremony is held each year at the Veteran’s Memorial in the North Royalton Cemetery and is conducted by the Strongsville VFW Post 3345.
Mayor Bob Stefanik, whose son Andrew is a veteran, said servicemen and women’s sacrifice is marked with headstones and tiny flags that flutter in the breeze, with names carved in stones and memorials across the nation, but the significance of what they have done will resonate forever in the hearts of the nation's people.
“They will forever be in our memory, forever in our hearts and we will forever be thankful to them,” the mayor said.
VFW Post Commander Tim Zvoncheck said for many, this particular holiday weekend is a time of joy and a day off from school and work. But, for the many who have lost loved ones in defense of the nation, it’s a much different occasion.
“It means one step closer to the warmth of summer. For our children, it means the school year will be ending in just a few short weeks. For us working adults, it means a much needed three-day weekend. However, for those that lost loved ones in the defense of our country, it’s just a reminder of the necessary but bitter cost of war,” he said.
Since the birth of the nation, more than 1,322,000 men and women have given their lives in its defense, Zvoncheck said. More than half of those occurred within the first 100 years. Recognizing a need to pay tribute to these soldiers, Gen. John Logan, leader of the Grand Army of the Republic, penned what he referred to as the proudest act of his life, General Order 11, which created the first Decoration Day, or Memorial Day, May 30, 1868.
Zvoncheck said his hope is that Memorial Day would be remembered more than once every year, but each day in the homes of families across the nation.
“As you sit down at dinner or when you go to bed at night, please take a moment and be thankful for those who risk their lives and have given their lives in order for us to rest peacefully. I ask this not only for our troops, but for our police officers, our firemen and our paramedics who protect us on a daily basis in the cities and towns in which we live,” he said. “I also ask that you continue this each and every day as our troops continue to be deployed throughout the world while we at home sit and enjoy the freedoms that they protect.”
Ohler said everyone who attended these ceremonies honored everyone who has ever worn a uniform.
“A solider’s blood is the seeds of freedom,” he said. “May we never forget.”
Judy Wotowiec of North Royalton remembers and agrees.
“We need to remember days like this more,” she said. “I do think we need to be reminded.”
Gina Andres and her sister walked up to the wreaths that were presented at the memorial after the ceremony and were overwhelmed at the thought of their beloved family members.
“My husband is retired Navy, my son is Coast Guard, my father is a Marine, my brother is a Marine. We just lost our dad,” she said, fighting back tears. “It’s just part of our heritage.”
Ward 1 Councilman John Nickell, Ward 3 Councilman Dan Langshaw and Ward 4 Councilman Paul Marnecheck all attended amongst the record crowd of residents and the police and fire crews.
Langshaw wanted his stepson Henry Schuld, 8, to know what Memorial Day is all about at his very first ceremony.
“What is Memorial Day about?” Langshaw asked him afterward.
“The people that served our country,” Henry said.
“Yes, that's right. The people who died serving our country,” Langshaw said, patting him on the back proudly.
Marnecheck said it is an important reminder of the true cost of freedom. He said it's easier now to forget because it is an all-volunteer service.
"Hopefully as we reflect on the past costs, we can work for a future where such sacrifice is no longer needed. I hope to see a time when disputes are resolved without bloodshed," he said.
Why did Nickell want to attend?
“To honor all those who have served and honor the ones now. You see how important it is these days to keep our country safe,” he said.
“Please enjoy the rest of your day,” Stefanik said, at the ceremony's close. “But, please remember what this day is about.”