On July 27, 2008, at 12:43am, Samuel Snow died of congestive heart failure at Virginia Mason hospital in Seattle. He was 84 years old.
Just 13 hours earlier, at a public ceremony at Seattle’s Discovery Park, Assistant Secretary of the Army Ronald J. James had presented an honorable discharge to Mr. Snow’s family, apologizing for his wrongful conviction more than 63 years ago.
Samuel Snow was born September 23, 1923 in Fort White, Florida. His father, a laborer, was raised in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, but moved to Florida and changed his name to Kid Snow. His mother, Ruley, washed laundry.
Sam is the youngest of six children; his older siblings, all deceased, were Willie, Lucille, Manuel, Mabel and Georgia.
Because Fort White’s segregated schools provided just nine years of schooling for African Americans, Sam moved with his mother to Leesburg, Florida to live with his father’s aunt. In Leesburg, he completed tenth grade at Lake County Training School.
Mr. Snow was inducted into the United States Army on May 2, 1944. After basic training in Louisiana, he was transferred to Fort Lawton and assigned to the 650th Port Company, an all-black unit in the segregated U.S. Army of World War II.
On August 14, 1944the day before he and the other members of his unit were to ship out for the war zone in New GuineaMr. Snow came to the defense of a fellow soldier whom he believed had been attacked by an Italian prisoner of war. Within moments, Mr. Snow and others were seriously injured.
The subsequent melee and the lynching of a prisoner of war led to the largest and longest Army court-martial of World War II. Prosecutor Leon Jaworski (later the Watergate special prosecutor) put Snow and 42 others on trial; 28, including Snow, were eventually convicted. Each soldier served time and received a dishonorable discharge.
Sam Snow always maintained his innocence. As early as November 5, 1949, he applied for an honorable discharge; like all similar requests from his fellow defendants, it was denied.
Sam and Margaret Snow were married in 1947; they remained married for 61 years. Their son, Maurice, was born in 1947 (he died in 2007); daughter, Kay, was born in 1950 (she died in 1968); and son, Ray, was born in 1952 (still living.)
Saddled with a dishonorable discharge, Sam Snow was ineligible for benefits under the GI Bill, including the opportunity for government-sponsored vocational training. He worked as a laborer, for a time gathering ferns each morning, then working in the orange juice factory in the afternoons. For more than two decades, he was a custodian at the Morrison Methodist Church, whichduring a portion of his employmentdid not allow blacks to worship.
With the assistance of a local politician, Snow’s discharge was upgraded from “Dishonorable” to “Less Than Honorable,” allowing him to be hired as a custodian for the Florida Highway Patrol.
“Dad was an honorable man,” says his son, Ray Snow. “He would rather do something for someone than have someone do something for him.”
Sam Snow’s life, says his son, centered on family, work and church. “He never missed a single week of Sunday school in over 60 years,” says Ray. He was a member of St. Stephen AME church in Leesburg.
On October 26, 2007, the Army Board for Correction of Military Records issued an historic ruling. The board, prompted by a request from Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), joined by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), unanimously announced that the 1944 court-martial was “fundamentally unfair,” and that Leon Jaworski had committed “egregious error” by refusing to release extensive exculpatory evidence to the defense. That evidence, contained in a previously-classified Army Inspector General Report, was first reported by Seattle journalists Jack and Leslie Hamann in their 2005 book, On American Soil.
On July 24, 2008, Sam Snow, Margaret Snow, Ray Snow and Debbra Snow (Ray’s wife) joined the members of six other families who gathered from across the country for a four-day tribute in Seattle. On July 25, at a gala dinner at the Northwest African American Museum, Sam Snow and the other veterans were honored by many of Seattle’s leading citizens. Later that night, Mr. Snow’s pacemaker began working overtime, and he was admitted to Seattle’s Virginia Mason Hospital.
Ray Snow represented his father the next day, July 26, as the Assistant Secretary of the Army, Ronald J. James, issued a stirring tribute and apology, and presented honorable discharges to the families. Later that day, Sam held the honorable discharge in his arms and grinned broadly.
At 12:43am, Samuel Snow died at Virginia Mason Hospital, hearing the whispers of his family in his ears.
A celebration of Samuel Snow’s life will begin at 11am on August 2, 2008 at the Morrison United Methodist Church, in Leesburg, Florida:
Samuel Snow, 84, Leesburg, FL passed away on Sunday, July 27, 2008 while in Seattle, Washington to attend a military ceremony in his honor. Mr. Snow worked as head custodian for Morrison United Methodist Church and the Florida Highway Patrol Office in Leesburg, FL for over 25 years. He was a faithful member of St. Stephen A.M.E. Church, Leesburg and Harry Dobb American Legion Post 179, Leesburg. He is survived by his loving wife, Margaret Snow; son, Ray (Debbra) Snow; grandchildren, Maurice (Amanda) Snow, Denise S. (Johnathan) Norwood, Marvin J. and Ray L. Snow; three great-grands; daughter-in-law, Marie F. Snow; devoted niece, Kelly (William) Morris; The family will receive friends on Friday from 5-8 PM at St. Stephen A.M.E. Church, 302 Church Street, Leesburg. A Celebration of Life service will be held on Saturday, August 2, 2008 at 11 AM at Morrison United Methodist Church, 1005 West Main Street, Leesburg, with Rev. Dennis Bell and Rev. David L. Connelly, officiating. Interment will follow with full Military Honors at Evergreen Memorial Gardens, Leesburg. POSTELL'S MORTUARY Pine Hills Chapel is pleased to provide service for the entire Snow Family.
Those wishing to send condolences should direct them to:
The family of Samuel Snow
c/o St. Stephen AME Church
302 Church St.
Leesburg, FL 34748
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions to:
The Lupus Foundation of America
In memory of Samuel Snow