The true story of pilot Howard Snyder and the crew of the B-17 Susan Ruth
Growing up, author Steve Snyder knew the basics about his father’s war history; that Howard Snyder was a B-17 pilot; was stationed at Thurleigh, England with the 306th Bomb Group; his plane was named after his year one old daughter, Susan Ruth; he flew bombing missions over occupied Europe; he was shot down over Belgium; he was missing in action for 7 months but evaded capture; he eventually joined the French Resistance sabotaging German convoys; and at last was liberated by the U.S. Army. Even then he thought the story might make a good book, and in fact, Howard’s account of his Flying Fortress being shot down (hand-written while he was missing in action) was included in two books, First Over Germany by Russell Strong and The Mighty Eighth Gerald Astor.
However, it wasn’t until he retired in 2009 that Steve had the time to go through all the material his parents had kept from the war years to learn more details. The most significant were the many letters Howard had written to his wife, Ruth, and after reading them, Steve became absolutely fascinated with the story of his father and the crew. In fact, it became his passion. He read book after book about the air war in Europe, spent countless hours doing research on the internet downloading declassified military documents, and started attending reunions of various WW II organizations listening to veterans tell their stories. Steve is now president of the 306th Bomb Group Historical Association.
Finally in 2012, Steve decided to write a book. After the years of research, he came to the conclusion that the story of his father and the crew was so unique and so compelling that it just had to be told and people needed to read about it. SHOT DOWN was published in August 2014 and since then has received 16 national book awards.
Although SHOT DOWN is centered on Howard Snyder and his crew, it also contains detailed information about the B-17 Flying Fortress, and the combat crews of the Eighth Air Force. The first half of the book leads up to the day the plane was knocked out of the sky on February 8, 1944 by two Focke-Wulf 190s. It includes following Howard Snyder through pilot training, the crew’s journey to England, what life was like both on base and in England, and descriptions of perilous combat missions from take-off to landing. The second half is about what happened to each member of the crew after that harrowing day (five of the crew made it back, and five did not) and about all the courageous Belgian people who risked their lives to help them.
Everything in the book is factual and based on first hand testimony by the people who were involved in the events that took place. This was acquired from personal letters written by crew member and their family members, oral and written accounts by crew members, declassified military documents, and research conducted by local Belgian historians, Dr. Paul Delahaye and Jacques Lalot, who interviewed Belgian citizens and members of the Underground. Steve even found and interviewed the German Luftwaffe pilot, Hans Berger, who shot down his father’s B-17 bomber.
To complement the story, SHOT DOWN contains many excerpts from Howard’s letters, and the hardcover book includes more than 200 time period photographs. To add background and context to the story, many historical facts and anecdotes about and surrounding the war are entwined throughout the book so that a reader has a feel for and understanding of what was occurring on a broader scale.
Like most World War II veterans, Howard Snyder did not talk much about the war until he journeyed to Belgium in 1989 along with his three other living crew members to attend the dedication of a memorial erected by the Belgian American Foundation, founded by Dr. Delahaye, in honor of the crew of the Susan Ruth. Being re-united with many of his Belgian helpers and visiting houses and farms where he stayed brought all the memories back. Steve has visited Belgian three times. His last trip was in 2014 during which he was invited to visit the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, Denise Bauer, at the Embassy in Brussels.
Howard Snyder who died at age 91 in 2007 and his fellow crew members are all gone now, but through his son’s book, SHOT DOWN, will be remembered.