WALLACE E. (PETE) SNELSON
Patriot, Chapter 1919
State Senator, Retired
Army, WWII, Europe
Wallace E. Snelson was
born in Grandfalls, Texas in 1923, into a pioneer farm and ranch family (He
was one of 5 brothers to serve overseas during WWII, and a sixth brother
served in the Korean War). “Pete,” a long-time small town nickname,
graduated from Grandfalls High School in 1939 and then worked for the next
year as news editor of the Grandfalls Gazette.
In 1940, having secured a scholarship, he enrolled in the
Texas College of Mines in El Paso (now the University of Texas at El Paso).
Soon after America entered the war, “Pete” enlisted in the Army’s Enlisted
Reserve Corps, a program for college students. A nationwide call-up for
active duty came in April 1943. His first assignment was to Camp Maxey in
Paris, Texas for 13 weeks of Basic Training. Upon its completion, he was
selected for the Army’s Specialized Training Program and sent to the
University of Nebraska for intensive study in the German Language, along
with historical facts about Germany, in preparation for service in the
European Theatre of Operations.
“Pete” was next assigned to the 44th Infantry
Division, which at that time was undergoing maneuvers in Louisiana, and upon
his arrival in April 1944, he was further assigned to Company B, 324th
Infantry Regiment. Following completion of their unit training at Camp
Phillips, Kansas and further preparedness for combat in Europe, then came
the transfer of the Division for embarkation from Boston, Massachusetts.
The division disembarked at Cherbourg, France and then
bivouacked for several days near the Omaha and Utah invasion beaches on the
Normandy coast before being transported to the Alsace region. The 44th
Infantry Division replaced another division in the line in September 1944
and took its place in the fighting.
A large-scale Allied offensive was launched in their
region on November 13, 1944 and Pete
Snelson was wounded in the second day’s
fighting. Company B was in the attack in a forested area when he took
serious shrapnel wounds from a tree burst of a German mortar shell. He was
taken back to a Field Hospital for surgery.
He was further evacuated to a General Hospital in France
where he remained hospitalized for three months. When he was fit for return
to duty, he was interviewed and selected for service as a Special Agent in
the Counter Intelligence Corps.
His new unit of assignment was the 307th CIC Detachment
at 7th Army Headquarters. In order for CIC Agents to better handle their
mission, their uniforms were without rank or insignia to promote free and
open communication with civilian and military at all levels. He was a
Technical Sergeant before he returned home from Europe in January 1946, and
he had many interesting experiences to remember for a lifetime. Here are
some of them.
He dealt with Doctor Klaus Schilling, who had been
conducting experiments on the prisoners in the Concentration Camp at Dachau
by injecting them with live malaria virus. Of the more than one thousand
prisoners that Schilling had experimented on, all but nine of the human
guinea pigs had died.
In November 1945, an SS Officer that had been
interrogated could no longer keep a secret. The officer had been ordered to
destroy three large trunks of personal property belonging to Eva Braun, but
he did not do so. After the war, the officer cooperated and guided CIC
Agents to dig up an area on a secluded Bavarian estate. They recovered Eva
Braun’s personal diary, photo albums with numerous pictures of her and Adolf
Hitler with a small child, which led to speculation that the child was Eva
Braun’s and Adolf Hitler’s. They also found a twenty-four person place
setting of sterling silver that was engraved with the Polish royal crown;
valued at that time near one million dollars. The most fascinating item
they recovered was the bloodstained uniform that Adolf Hitler had been
wearing on July 20, 1944 during the attempted assassination in the Wolf’s
Lair at Rastenburg, and Pete has a photo of himself holding that uniform.
experienced the most unlikely happening of his life during his CIC days in
Europe after the war and this is his “it’s a small, small world” story.
While screening Displaced Persons for possible employment by the military, a
group of eight Polish men were brought in for interview. The second man in
line was wearing a regulation U.S. Army Field Jacket that instantly caught
Pete’s attention (it was common for surplus and unserviceable military
clothing to be provided to Displaced Persons). The jacket was not only his
size, it was stenciled “S-9898,” the last four digits of Pete’s serial
number, and the holes in the jacket matched exactly where Pete had been
wounded with mortar shell fragments. It was the Field Jacket the Medics had
taken off of “Pete” when he was wounded. Considering the huge number of
Displaced Persons all over Europe, and that this one man who came to Pete
looking for a job was wearing Pete’s old Field Jacket, how likely was that?
Finally, it was his time to return home. He arrived back
in the U.S. on January 25, 1946 and was discharged from Army active duty at
Fort Bliss, Texas on March 1, 1946 and commissioned in the Army Reserve. He
then commanded a Counter Intelligence Corps Detachment at Fort Bliss until
1955 when he was discharged from the reserves as a First Lieutenant.
During his reserve
assignment, he was on the faculty at the University of Texas at El Paso for
six years and then was Vice President of Odessa College from 1952 to 1955.
He then entered the business world by founding an advertising agency in
Midland, which he owned for the following 30 years. During the 1950’s, Pete
became had become active in the JAYCEES and he was elected President of the
JAYCEES in Texas in 1957. In 1960 he ran for State Representative from
Midland, and won. In 1964 he was elected to the Texas Senate and continued
to serve until his retirement from the Senate in 1983. He has been a life
member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart since 2002, and this month,
Texas Capital Chapter 1919 proudly salutes Patriot
W. E. “Pete”