My father was a proud member of the 7th Armored Division during WWII. At first he was a gunner on a half-track, but by the time they were assigned to the Netherlands he had been moved to a unit known as G2. G2 was a branch of military intelligence (my dad swore that was the greatest oxymoron ever invented by man) and they trained my father on how to become a scout.
You see, my dad was an artist. He graduated from The Ohio State University in 1941 and entered the army by the gracious invitation of the government that very summer. Besides being able to draw he also had a keen intelligence and an uncanny ability to retain detail. Plus, being from Lima, he grew up a sneaky little bastard who knew how to pinch apples from neighbor’s trees without ever getting caught.
So the army would send dear old dad all alone miles behind enemy lines to gather intel on whatever they needed. He carried with him his uniform, a small satchel, a number of pencils and sketch pads and a fully loaded .45 hand gun. He would then sneak about drawing detailed maps of gun emplacements, troop assignments and local terrain. He understood the risks involved and my being here means that he did a good job.
During the fall of 1944, the 7th was stationed to support the flank of the 106th infantry division in a little town called St. Vith. All was quiet until the early morning of December 16th, at which point all hell broke loose. St. Vith happened to become the tip of the German spear with which they intended to drive the Allies back to the sea.
For three days the 7th held the critical road junction, but had to retreat due to overwhelming forces. As the division moved to a more defensible location, intel was desperately needed as to the size and location of German forces.
Enter my father. In the middle of the night he slipped across enemy lines to find out exactly who was where and how much they had. With a heavy snowfall and strong winds to help conceal him, my dad made it safely into the thick woods. While the lousy weather helped protect him, it also caused him to become disoriented. Soon enough he was lost in the woods, all alone, with Germans everywhere. Eventually he made his way back to his camp where he was confronted by American sentries.
“Halt,” they screamed. “Advance and be recognized!”
Dad put his hands in the air and moved slowly. “Sgt. Snook,” he answered.
By this point the Americans had become aware the Germans had disguised themselves as American troops to commit sabotage and none of the sentries were familiar with my father. They continued to point their weapons at my dad and demanded proof.
“Go get Major Boyer; he knows me.”
One of the sentries ran off. He came back several moments later with an officer.
“Major Boyer,” my father said, “it’s Bob Snook.”
The major squinted into the dark. “The Bob Snook I know is from Ohio State. Sing your fight song.”
Without hesitation my dad began to sing. “Fight the team across the field, show them Ohio’s here…”
Major Boyle began to laugh. “That’s Snook alright,” he announced. “Only a godd**n Buckeye would be stupid enough to sing their fight song in the middle of battle. Let him in.”
My dad wasn’t let in because he knew the proper words. My father was let in because as he developed a friendship with his commanding officer he made it known he was a proud alumnus of Ohio State. He wore it as a badge of honor. It was who he was; it was part of his DNA. Those hours he spent in class never left him, those friendships never deserted him. How firm thy friendship indeed.
A few months later the war in Europe was over and my dad was headed back home to Lima. His life as a soldier came to an honorable end but his life as a Buckeye never stopped. He was there when Tom Harmon single-handedly beat Ohio State in 1940 and he was one of the many thousands who gave him an ovation. He listened to the Snow Bowl on the radio. He recalled telling people in 1953 that Hayes would never make it in Columbus and I saw him cry when the old man got fired.
He hated Michigan with an undying passion. When I was too little to understand Viet Nam or Watergate I understood that Michigan was the source of all evil and that Archie was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I knew that Bo was a traitor and that the colors yellow and blue should never appear together. I never questioned why Michigan was so bad because when your hero hates something it becomes your hate as well.
My father died on the Friday before Memorial Day in 1991. The unfiltered Camels caught up with him and the stroke just finished off what the emphysema began. My dad was born with red hair and until the day he died he kept all of it. The color began to fade as the years rolled and eventually gray crept in.
And even in death the colors of his beloved Buckeyes could be found upon his person.
Go Bucks! Beat Michigan!