Leon H. “Hessie” Snyder, one of Civil Air Patrol’s charter members honored with the Congressional Gold Medal in 2014 for their volunteer service in the organization during World War II, died Sunday in Palmerton, Pennsylvania. He was 94.
Snyder held the CAP rank of master sergeant. He served from Sept. 1, 1942 to July 15, 1945.
He was born Aug. 11, 1922, and raised in the farming community of Carbon County, Pennsylvania, just south of the Pocono Mountains. He always had an ability to fix things, and living near a country airport he was also fascinated about aircrafts and flying. One day Paul Knepper, an engineer and pilot, asked the young man if he like a job manufacturing and installing wire cables on aircraft.
Soon after, Snyder’s welding and mechanical abilities prompted Knepper to ask if he would like to work with him on a prototype aircraft – the Knepper KA-1 Crusader, a two-place, high-wing monoplane with tricycle landing gear, the first of its design in North America and possibly the world. Thanks to war heating up overseas and the shortage of materials, production was put on hold.
Decades later, Snyder recalled that “early in 1942 Knepper and I belonged to the local Civil Air Patrol group (Allentown, PA Squadron 21) and learned of the CAP Coastal Patrol
Base No. 17 being established at Riverhead, New York. He volunteered for active duty and suggested I also do so.”
“Once there Knepper saw the dire need for mechanics and suggested to the base commander (Maj. Ralph Earle) that I should be invited to join the base. I reported two weeks later and remained till the base was decommissioned in 18 August 1943.”
After the Coastal Patrol base closings, Snyder served in various tow target squadrons, including two based at Hyde Field, Maryland, and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Along with maintaining the planes, he was also an aircraft reel operator, which meant hanging out the aloft craft’s side and deploying the sock target for gunners to shoot at from below. On several occasions, he said, the fuselage had to be repaired after stray bullets hit it.
After the war Snyder returned to Pennsylvania and worked in heavy construction and as an equipment mechanic He also found time to work on airplanes.
Memorial services will be held Saturday, Nov. 19, at St. John’s UCC church, 891 Columbia Ave, Palmerton. The public can call from 10-11 a.m., with a service at 11 a.m.