Dearest Gee. Every letter home starts the same way, all 340 or so I have collected in this old wooden shoe shine kit box. Snook loved Gee, from the moment they met in 1935 until his passing in 1989, with Gee by his side. The man I knew, my grandfather, was an exceptionally gentle man, greatly preferring laughter over raising his voice. He spent his life creating things – a successful construction company, homes and businesses throughout his hometown, sketchbooks filled with art, music with his harmonica, a devoted squirrel following who waited for food at his porch every morning. In his own words, he did not care for war, calling it “the most terrible thing that was ever started.” While he was steadfast in the need for this war, he was also greatly concerned with the innocents caught up in the terror this war had created, and dedicated to returning home safely to his beloved wife, his Dearest Gee.
After the US joined the Second World War, Snook was designated 1A and called up to enlist in the army, traveling to nearby Chicago with forty or so other Champaign County locals to undergo physical exams. Once determined fit to serve, Snook found himself headed to Basic Training at Camp J.T. Robinson in Little Rock, Arkansas. Near the end of his training, he was asked if he was interested in “hazardous duty”. Snook thought he needed to respond with “yes” in order to be sent overseas to the European front, so that was his reply. For the US Army, Snook was a promising enlistee. His apparent willingness to dive into the thick of battle combined with his mature age for a draftee (28), his near-fluency in German (thanks to his German-speaking mother, Ottillia, and German coursework), and his experience as a carpenter working at Chanute Air Field in Rantoul, Illinois meant he was selected as a technical sergeant in the Service Company (Sv. Co.) of the First Special Service Force, also known as the Devil’s Brigade.
The First Special Service Force was an experimental joint commando force of the Canadian and United States militaries, created in July of 1942 and trained near Helena, Montana. Snook fought in the FSSF for its duration, until its disbanding on December 5, 1944, and he continued on with many of his fellow soldiers as part of the 474th Infantry Regiment, who concluded their service in Norway and finally returned stateside in October of 1945.
Letters From Snook is a snapshot of World War II history from one man’s perspective. The bulk of posts will simply be Snook’s letters home from the front to Gee, shared in chronological order (baring finding a misplaced one hiding in an album in storage – a couple are known to be missing). Several of the letters are censored, either by marking or cutting out sensitive information, and posts will speculate on these missing pieces whenever possible, as historical records of events enable us to fill in some of these gaps after the fact. Due to the need to avoid details which would be caught by the censors, these letters are not a wealth of military information, rather a glimpse into the daily life and concerns of an FSSF soldier on the ground and the relationship he maintains with his cherished wife, Gee, while away from her for two and half years.
Beyond Snook’s correspondence, periodic background posts will fill in his letters’ informational gaps, both fleshing out the history of the FSSF as well as profiling individuals mentioned in the letters (from home and the front). Gee saved several items from Snook’s time in the service, and photographs and histories of these artifacts will also be sprinkled in between letters. Once the final letter is shared, regular posts will switch to excerpts from Snook’s memoirs, completed in 1988, entitled My Army History of Service in the First Special Service Force and the 474 Infantry Regiment of the United States Army, from May 11, 1942 to October 31, 1945.
Did you have family who served in the First Special Service Force or the 474th Infantry Regiment? I’d love to hear about your serviceman in the comments! I’d also greatly appreciate hearing from historians and those in the military if I share something factually incorrect – I want this blog to be a historical reference and accuracy is vital for that goal. Thanks for reading!