Robert C. Snell
Biography: Robert Charles Snell, “Bob or Mo”, was born on April 4, 1920, in Erie, Pennsylvania. He was the son of Earl C. Snell and Maud H. Robertson. Bob attended local schools in Erie, graduating from Strong Vincent High School in 1938. His enlistment record indicates he had one year of college prior to the war. He started working as an insurance salesman in the Erie Trust Building, located in downtown Erie.
Service Time: Bob entered the Army on January 22, 1942, at New Cumberland, PA. He was sent for basic training and as of April, he was stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. By August, he was serving at Camp Hood, Texas, as part of the 128th Tank Destroyer Training Battalion and was one of 15 men out of 125 that were chosen to participate in Officers Candidate School. After 90 days of intense training, he graduated as a Second Lieutenant on November 30th and was then sent to Camp Bowie, TX and assigned to the Company A of the 775th Tank Destroyer Battalion.
In early December, the unit was sent to Camp Young in California, where they would participate in desert maneuvers. In March, they moved to Ibis, CA, where they built a tent camp for use as a base. We know Bob received 15 days of leave beginning March 17, 1943, during which time, he traveled to Los Angeles and Hollywood, where he was photographed with friends at the Palladium, which was a popular dance theater. The photo above was taken at the Palladium and although we are not sure, the photo was gifted to Bob by a Josie Olsen, who thanks him for a lovely evening. Bob is shown on far left so Josie may be the girl sitting next to him. After returning to the unit, on May 12th, they moved to Camp Cooke, in Lompoc, CA, where on June 24th, Bob qualified as a Marksman with the pistol.
On July 6th, Bob received orders to travel back to Texas and to the BUTC (Basic Unit Training Center) at North Camp Hood. By July 17th, he was assigned to Company C of the 131st Tank Destroyer Training Battalion and remained with them for the next few months, until he was sent to Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, on September 2nd. He was then assigned to the Reconnaissance Company of the 634th Tank Destroyer Battalion on the 6th and continued training with the unit, within the U.S.
The photo above left is Bob’s H.S. yearbook photo. The photo on right is a photo of Bob, after the war, probably while on occupational duty.
The 634th shipped out from the New York port on December 29, 1943, arriving in England on January 10, 1944. After five months of additional training and preparations, they boarded transports and landed at Utah Beach, Normandy, France, on June 30th. They were equipped with M10 tank destroyers and were committed to battle on July 10th near Carentan. The unit participated in the Cobra breakout in late July with widely separated elements helping to capture Mayenne and defeat the Mortain counteroffensive in early August. The 634th raced east to Mons, Belgium where they supported operations against the Siegfried Line and the capture of Aachen, Germany, in October. Fighting in the Hürtgen Forest in November, Bob was recognized for actions on the 20th, near Heistern, Germany, and was awarded the Silver Star. His citation reads as follows:
“for gallantry in action in the vicinity of Heistern, Germany, 20 November 1944. Fearlessly dismounting from his tank during a fierce engagement with the enemy, Lieutenant Snell voluntarily crossed hazardous terrain vulnerable to intense fire, observed hostile dispositions, returned to his tanks, and personally directed an effective barrage against German instillations, thereby enabling infantry troops to capture an important objective. Lieutenant Snell’s gallant actions and outstanding devotion to duty reflect great credit upon the Army of the United States.”
The unit moved back to Belgium in December, only to race south to the Ardennes in late December. They crossed the Roer River on February 25, 1945, and pushed to the Rhine River at Bonn by March 9th. The unit crossed the river at Remagen on March 15th and supported envelopment of the Ruhr Pocket, moving east to the Harz Mountains in early April, finally driving 200 miles to the Czechoslovakian border by April 28th. Bob was also awarded the Bronze Star as identified by General Order 197, HQ 1st Infantry Division on 1 December, 1945:
“Robert C Snell 01821931, First Lieutenant Reconnaissance Company 634th Tank Destroyer Battalion. For meritorious achievement in connection with military operations against the enemy in the European Theater of operations from 17 December 1944 to 8 May 1945. The superior leadership, courage, and zeal with which Lieutenant Snell executed his responsibilities as company executive officer contributed immeasurably to the combat efficiency of his organization during the invasion of Eastern Europe. His uncompromising devotion reflects great credit upon the Army of the United States.”
The 634th received credit for campaigns in Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, the Ardennes and Central Europe. After the war had ended, Bob was transferred to the 603rd in August for additional occupational duty in Europe. He finally shipped home and left the service on December 25th at the Indiantown Gap Military Reservation. In addition to the Silver and Bronze Star Medals, he also recieved the Purple Heart.
The photo at left is Bob, after the war, standing in front of Snell’s Hardware store. The photo on right is Bob and Doris’ wedding photo.
Now back in the U.S., Bob returned to Erie and joined his father in a new venture, when they started Snell Hardware in 1946. Around 1948, Bob married the former Doris Ann Larsen, who was born in New York City and had performed with her father, Fred Larsen, in a vaudeville act. The new couple would have two sons, David Par and Richard Harvey.
Bob stayed with the business for 18 years until competition from the big box stores forced him to close. He then became a partner in Lake Erie Supply and worked for Pete Otis Ford before starting a new business, Materials Handling Enterprises, in 1970. Bob’s son David became a partner in the business in the mid-70s with Bob remaining President of the company until 1978.
In his spare time, Bob enjoyed playing golf and was a member of the Kahkwa Golf Club in Erie. He competed in the finals of the City Golf Tournament and articles about his golfing affectionately refer to him as the “mighty-mite” or “mighty-midget” and describe him as “132 lbs of coiled energy”. He did win the October Cup at the Kahkwa club in 1953. He was also an avid duck and deer hunter and when Coho Salmon were introduced to Lake Erie, he and his friends were some of the first to be successful in catching them. The men were often rewarded with free tackle to experiment with, by fishing companies.
Bob was a member of the Episcopal Cathedral of St Paul, Commonwealth Lodge 695 F and AM, Scottish Rites Bodies, Valley of Erie, Zem Zem Temple Shrine, Aviation Club, University Club, Erie Yacht Club and the Erie Maennerchor. He and Doris would travel all over the world and he was able to revisit many of the battlefields he had served on during the war. His family remembers him as a great story teller and his stories would have the family spellbound, discussing his many exploits. Bob passed away on July 28, 1978, with services being held at St. Paul’s Cathedral, which was packed to the rafters with family and friends.
The painting on left was done by Bob’s wife Doris, who in addition to being a classroom teacher and later a professor at Edinboro University, was also a talented musician, an accomplished artist, entertainer and truly gifted women, who had earned her Ph.D. in 1979.
I want the thank Joe Benacci, Quartermaster at VFW Post #470 in Erie, as well as Pennsylvania Senator Dan Laughlin and his staff, for their assistance in obtaining the information and photos for this tribute as well as additional photos and documents relating to Bob’s service. I also want to thank E-Yearbook.com, for the photo of Bob while a student at Strong Vincent H.S. The photo is used by permission of Digital Data Online, Inc. A special thank you to Bob’s son Harvey, for additional information and photos of his parents.
In 1989, Harvey, who was an avid triathlete, along with Bob North, swam 24.3 miles across Lake Erie to become the second men to complete the crossing. They were the first to be recognized by the U.S. Swimming Hall of Fame, doing it strictly by the English Channel Rules.