Michael Dennis Snyder

Snyder photoMichael Dennis Snyder
Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy
Served from 1959 to 1983

Michael Dennis Snyder was born on December 4th, 1941 in Cohoes, New York. He was no stranger to the military since his uncles had served in WWII. Once he graduated from the military High School of La Salle Institute, Troy, NY in 1959 he wasted no time in enlisting in the Navy. He wanted to enlist because it was a way for him to get away from where he lived. He also wanted to get out and start a life for himself. He also needed a job, which were hard to come by at the time. He joined the Navy because he “did not want to live in the mud with lions, tigers and snakes.” His uncles had also served in the Navy, so that was an influence on his decision. His mother was horrified while his father was indifferent about joining the Navy.

Once enlisted he attended boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois. At boot camp he learned everything from whom to salute to how to keep, clean and fire a gun. He enjoyed boot camp because he had a running start since he had gone to La Salle Institute.  He thought it was interesting and it was his first experience away from home. He felt he was very well prepared to go aboard ship after boot camp but that is not where he went. Michael went to Electronics and Electricity Preparatory School (E&EP School), which was also in Great Lakes, Illinois. After E&EP School he went to Special Weapons School in Albuquerque, New Mexico where he learned about nuclear weapons.

From there he received his first assignment to the USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63), an aircraft carrier. He went to Norfolk, Virginia where there were more classes in subjects such as firefighting, damage control, and shipboard life. He knew he was going to be assigned to the weapons division since he had gone to the specialty school in New Mexico. From Norfolk he went to Philadelphia where the ship was being built. There they prepared the ship and their division for their deployment. Seaman Apprentice Snyder was a Nuclear Weapons Man on the USS Kitty Hawk. The Nuclear Weapons men where assigned to “store, maintain, monitor, assemble, disassemble, and otherwise perform all the things that were required to maintain the effectiveness of the nuclear weapons that may or may not have been aboard ship.” He was apprehensive about his first assignment; however, once he met his division and got to know them he felt comfortable. He was constantly going to school during this time. He felt he was always learning because there were lectures about new topics every day inside and outside of the classroom on anything from uniforms to something about the new foreign port the ship was about to visit. He thought he had very good leaders, many of whom had served in WWII, and the morale of the men was very high. On this ship he started as a seaman apprentice and by the end of the assignment he had made 2nd class petty officer. Petty Officer Snyder left the Kitty Hawk in 1962.

Snyder left the Navy for a short period of time, was married to his wife Jean Vassallo of Malaga, NJ, then went right back to the Navy. This time he went to the USS Independence (CVA-62) in 1963. The ship was in Norfolk in dry dock. He says “the morale on that ship was absolutely horrible.” It was dirty and there was an excess of work assigned to the crew. He says he did not enjoy that ship at all.

After the USS Independence he was assigned to Naval Ammunition Depot, Oahu, Hawaii and was again assigned to nuclear weapons duties. Petty Officer Snyder was frequently involved in receiving training weapons flown off carriers during their Operational Readiness Inspections (ORIs). While in Hawaii he took all of his high school math over again, competed for Navy scholarships and was ultimately awarded a scholarship to the University of Miami, Florida.

He left Hawaii in 1966 and reported to the reserve center in Miami with orders to attend college.  He graduated in 1970 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Zoology and Chemistry.  While in college, Petty Officer Snyder was promoted from Second Class First Class.  He was then ordered to Newport, Rhode Island to the USS Puget Sound (AD-38). At the end of a year he was accepted to Officer Candidate School (OCS).

Following OCS he was assigned as the Gunnery Officer to the USS Glover (AGDE-1) out of Newport, RI.  The Glover was configured as an advanced anti-submarine warfare research ship with the capacity to carry up to 50 civilian scientists.

After the USS Glover he moved on to the USS Coontz (DLG-9) where he was assigned as the missile officer and once again involved with nuclear weapons. Aboard this ship he earned his qualification as Officer of the Deck for fleet operations. The scariest moment of his career came in a North Atlantic hurricane with waves 60-70 feet tall. They received a call that they had to turn around and rescue a merchantman that was taking on water and had a fire onboard. LT(jg) Snyder happened to be the officer of the deck at the time, and so had to turn the ship around. While doing more than a 50 degree roll while turning Mr. Snyder looked out the side window, saw only water and thought that they were not going to roll back up. Later they were informed that the merchantman was safe. Again, LT(jg) Snyder happened to be the Officer of the deck and so, he had to do the turn again.

LT Snyder was then assigned as Assistant Operations Officer on the staff of Commander, Service Squadron 8 and Commander Service Group 2, both in Norfolk, VA.  This assignment involved the scheduling of the fifty seven ships of the service force of the U.S. Atlantic fleet. His next assignment was to the six month department head course (destroyer school) in Newport RI.

He graduated from school in 1977 and went to the USS Claude V Ricketts (DDG-5) a guided missile destroyer. Lieutenant Snyder was the department head of the Weapons Department. While aboard USS Claude V Ricketts, the ship was the first destroyer to go into the Persian Gulf when the US Embassy in Iran was taken over in 1979.

Departing USS Claude V Ricketts, LCDR Snyder was ordered to the USS Saginaw (LST-1188), an amphibious assault ship. There he was the third senior officer on the ship in the position of 1st Lieutenant.  While aboard Saginaw he worked as the shipyard overhaul coordinator when the ship was sent into the yards for extensive maintenance.  LCDR Snyder’s final assignment was on the staff of the Commander, US Naval Surface Forces Atlantic as the force Missile Officer. This task involved management of the force training missiles and aerial targets for the Atlantic fleet. LCDR Snyder decided to retire in August of 1983 following twenty four years of service aboard seven ships and numerous shore commands.

The reason why LCDR Snyder kept going all of those years is because he says, “I loved it.” He says “There were not two days in a row that were the same.” He enjoyed the responsibility and the people he worked with. For him, the hardest part of Navy life was the lack of regular communication with his family. He related that it often took weeks for mail to connect with him while at sea, and phone calls were a tedious affair that took hours while ashore.

Mr. Snyder thoroughly enjoyed the experience of traveling the world. He visited 38 different countries while in the Navy. He enjoyed taking tours in those foreign places. One of his favorite places was when they went to Tsavo National Park, Kenya where he saw elephants, giraffes, and hundreds of other species.

Not only did Mr. Snyder never suffer an injury while in the Navy, but he is very proud of the fact that no one working directly for him ever suffered an injury. He made sure everyone was safe.

LCDR Snyder received many ribbons and awards, but he is most proud of his two Navy Commendation medals. The first was awarded for his conduct aboard USS Claude V. Ricketts in the rescue of three men from the Gulf Stream when their fishing boat sank. The second was for overall performance aboard USS Saginaw where, most significantly, the ship rescued more than 2000 people during the Mariel, Cuba boatlift.

Mr. Snyder then went to work for Sperry Corporation in Long Island and was ultimately reassigned to the Washington, DC area.  Three years after his Navy retirement Mr. Snyder and his wife moved to Maryland where they resided for eighteen years.  While living in Maryland, Mr. Snyder attended graduate school at the University of Maryland where, after taking one or two courses a semester, he earned a Master’s Degree in Technology Management. His twenty year job in the civilian community was similar to what he had been doing in his final years in the Navy, that of combat system management and integrated logistics for the FFG-7 Oliver Hazard Perry Class of US Navy, Australian Navy and Spanish Navy frigates.

Mr. Snyder has remained good friends many of his fellow service men. He has been on the Board of Directors of the Navy Nuclear Weapons Association for many years and acts as the organizational historian and keeper of the memorabilia. He and his wife of 45 years travel around the country to reunion sites bringing the memorabilia for exhibit. He is also on the Board of Directors of the Marin County Chapter, Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), and is the editor of the chapter newsletter.

LCDR Snyder says that His Navy experience made him more self-reliant, more deliberate and he has learned things that he could not have learned any other way than traveling. He saw how fortunate he was to live in the United States of America.

Mr. Snyder says that civilians should know that servicemen risk their lives every day, not just when they pick up a gun, but when they are sailing in high seas, conducting underway replenishment, flying aircraft and doing the many other difficult and dangerous things that servicemen do every day.

He thinks that we should remember to question everything. He says we should follow orders when given, but they must be just and right. Mr. Snyder says we must question motives and not believe everything that we hear.

Mr. Snyder thinks that young people should study history because it “teaches us about things that could and might happen in the future.” Young people should also “look outside of their own society and look at foreign events through the eyes of the foreigner”. 

Interview by Stanton Leavitt on June 27, 2011

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