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‘It was my duty to serve’

Two World War II?veterans from Pine Island recall their experiences

September 4, 2018
Lehigh Acres Citizen

Long-time Pine Island residents Ed Snyder and Wilber Riepel both served in the Army Air Corps during World War II - Snyder in the 8th Air Force and Riepel in the 43rd Air Force.

Last week the two 98-year-old men shared their experiences.

"Although we were both in the same general area (of Europe) during World War II, I didn't know about Ed Snyder until I met him here on Pine Island," Riepel said.

Article Photos

ED?FRANKS

Long-time Pine Island residents and World War II?veterans Ed Snyder, left, and Wilbur Riepel.

Riepel was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1920.

"I was 21 when Pearl Harbor was attacked," Riepel said. "When I was drafted I could have been deferred because I was working in the defense field but I felt it was my duty to serve."

Riepel served with the U.S. Army Air Corps 43rd Bombardier Group.

In 1940, the first peacetime draft was instituted and men between the ages of 21 and 45 were required to register for the draft. Draftees were required to serve one year but after Pearl Harbor was attacked and war declared, every man was required to serve until the end of the war.

By the end of the war in 1945, 50 million men had registered for the draft and 10 million had been inducted in the military.

"I was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Corps in July of 1942," Riepel said. "I went to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for boot camp but there weren't any barracks so we slept in tents. From there we went to Miami Beach, and then to Madison, Wisconsin, for training. Truax Field was a training school for radio operators and mechanics of the Army Air Corps."

Riepel was trained and then sailed from Newport News, Virginia, to Italy.

"It was a Victory ship and took a month to get there with about 500 troops," Riepel said. "I'm sure everybody was scared."

For the next two plus years, Riepel worked in supplies and delivered airplane engines and other parts wherever they were needed.

"I came back home by ship to Newport News and was finally discharged after the German and Japanese surrender," Riepel said. "I married a Jersey City girl, Lydia Medel, on Aug. 11, 1945, and was discharged from the Army in November 1945."

Riepel worked at several jobs before settling in with Kraft Foods where he worked for the next 37 years and retired in 1983. The Riepels raised three children, Lydia, Wilbur (Ron) and Denise. Sadly, Riepel lost his wife last year after 73 years of marriage.

Riepel was among the World War II and Korean War veterans who participated in the Central Florida Honor Flight last May. The veterans visited the nation's capital to view and reflect at the memorials built for them and their fallen comrades in arms.

Snyder was born in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, in 1920, and was also 21 years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

"I was already training in the Army Air Corps," Snyder said. "I had enlisted at Ft. Hayes in Columbus in October and went through basic training at Shepherd Field, Texas, from October to December. That's where I was when I learned that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Everyone knew war was coming because it had been going on in Europe since 1939.

"They were starting a bomb group in Ephrata, Washington," Snyder said. "I wanted to be a pilot but 'washed out' of flight school. I went on to be trained as a bombardier in Pueblo, Colorado, and was assigned to the 466th Bomb Group and sent to Attlebridge, England. Once I got to England, I was assigned to the U.S. 8th and 15th Air Force as a bombardier in a B-24 Liberator."

Snyder flew his first bombing mission May 4, 1944, over Brunswick, Germany. The next day, May 5, the group bombed Sottevast, France. Three days later they returned to bomb Brunswick, Germany.

"When we returned to Brunswick, we got shot out of formation," Snyder said. "A shell came through the top turret and tore through four fuel tubes igniting the fuel," Snyder said. "Two of our guys bailed out and I crawled into the nose to let the nose gunner know we were in trouble. On the way back I spotted a fire extinguisher and started to put the fire out. That's when I spotted the pilot standing in the bomb bay getting ready to jump. I said 'Wait a minute.' I was able to get the fire completely out."

Near the end of the war, Snyder married his high school sweetheart, Jessie, in January 1944.

"I was in Pueblo, Colorado, and she was working in New York for Wright Patterson putting inventory systems in aircraft plants," Snyder said. "I called her up and said 'Would you like to get married, Jessie?' and there was dead silence on the phone. Jessie and her girlfriend got a couple of days off and came to Pueblo and we were married. We had one daughter and one son. Today with the grandchildren there are 19."

Snyder worked for Cummins Engine Company for 17 years in manufacturing engineering performing time studies for production. It was when Cummins was building a new plant in Mexico that Snyder retired.

"We found Pine Island because my wife's sister had a home in Cherry Estates," Snyder said. "Then in 1980, we bought our retirement home in Bokeelia and have been here ever since."

Sadly, Snyder will be leaving Pine Island for North Carolina to live with his son.

"There comes a time when you have to make a decision," Snyder said.

"Ed and Wilbur are still very capable of drinking a glass of beer or two and it's a pleasure to talk to about many diverse subjects," friend Dick Thomas said. "After hearing some of Ed's and Wilbur's stories, I now know why their generation is called the 'Greatest Generation.'"

 
 

 

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