In his first book of nonfiction, Shot Down, Steve Snyder has paired driven research and fascinating oral history and made a very personal story, about his father’s experiences as a B-17 pilot in WWII, into a very personal story for anyone who reads it. Snyder puts the reader into the action of the air war raging over Europe during 1943 and early 1944 and we come to know the men who flew these missions and sacrificed so much for freedom. In particular, he tells the real story of the men who were shot down behind enemy lines.
Shot Down is the true story of WWII B-17 pilot Howard Snyder and the crew of his B-17 “Susan Ruth”, through their struggle for survival in the skies over Europe and after they are eventually shot down over enemy territory in February of 1944. Some crew members of “Susan Ruth” were killed, and some evaded capture, while others were captured and sent to POW camps where they fought to survive for the remainder of the war in a German Stalag run by a sadistic commander bent on getting revenge on the men who had bombed the Nazis into submission. From training in the States to flying combat over enemy occupied Europe the reader feels as though they too lived through the excitement and unimaginable hardships which are told in amazing detail.
Snyder’s quest to tell this story starts as a son’s desire to know more about his father’s role as a pilot and as a evadee during the war and grows into much more. He is able to have the story of his father’s B-17 and crew, kept alive, to become one of the finest examples of first hand accounts from a WWII pilot, which can be enjoyed by people who are new to WWII history and people who are experts on the period. The level of dedication that Steve Snyder has is worthy of respect and acknowledgement due to all of the fine details which were researched in order to get them right and portray the crew of “Susan Ruth” as the heroes that they were.
The book is painstakingly researched by Snyder who used historical documents, primary source letters and diaries, and first hand accounts from surviving WWII combatants. The volume includes over 200 photographs and graphics which detail the lives of both his father’s unit and crew and highlight the experiences common to all of the men involved in the air war in Europe. His dedication to ensuring that all of the details are correct are what make it all come alive. The story brings to light every aspect of the lives that these men lead during the war from takeoff to landing. Snyder also shares what it was like for the men while training and during down-time when they were not flying missions. When the action was hot, Snyder uses first hand accounts to bring the fighting right to the reader, like he does with this excerpt from his father’s diary, “Suddenly the nose guns were thumping away. I could hear the dull crackling fire through my headset, as if the guns were a great distance away. The vibrations of the firing shook the ship, and as I looked from one ship to the other above me, I could see the empty cartridges fly out of the nose turret into the slipstream and whiz past our cockpit.
The bursting of the Focke-Wulf’s 20mm cannons around our ship was the first indication that we had been singled out . Then the celestial dome (a radar installation on the bombers) blew up in front of me. After that I could hear 20mm striking and exploding as they hit the ship. Pieces of equipment and parts of the ship were flying about, striking my feet and legs.”(200).
Shot Down tells the amazing story of Howard Snyder, a B-17 pilot during WWII and the mission that he and his crew faced, up until they were shot down over enemy territory. From there, the story gives the detailed documentation of events which took place after the “Susan Ruth” was shot down and tells the real un-Hollywood version of what the men in these aircrews faced, especially when the tide of war had turned against the Nazis. The passion which author, Steve Snyder brings to telling his father’s story, helps tell the story of all Americans who have family in the generation that saved the world.
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