by Evan Pattak

Before he was a highly respected trainer/driver on the Pennsylvania/Ohio circuit, before he became the patriarch of one of harness racing’s most successful families, the late Richard Snyder was a World War II hero with the United States Coast Guard. To commemorate his service and valor, the Coast Guard has named a cutter for him and will formally commission the Richard Snyder on April 20 at her homeport, Atlantic Beach, N.C.

In 1944, Snyder was part of an attack on Japanese ground forces during an amphibious assault on Biak island. He was awarded a Silver Star for his actions.

“They cleared the islands out, much of it through hand-to-hand combat,” says his son, Doug Snyder, a trainer/driver at The Meadows. “When we were kids, we had all kinds of Japanese swords and flags — and there was blood on the flags. We used to tell people he had awards. People thought we were full of it, but we weren’t.”

Doug’s older brother, The Meadows-based trainer Dane Snyder, indicates the process of naming the cutter began about three years ago with an ominous-looking communication. As Dane tells it:

“You know me — I’m always in trouble. So I come home from work one day, and my wife is waiting for me at the door, waving something at me. She says, ‘What the hell did you do to get a registered letter from the Department of Homeland Security?’ Honestly, I was a little worried because I’ve been known to say things I shouldn’t say.”

From a distance, the Richard Snyder looks like a lovely pleasure craft, but don’t be fooled; she’s as tough and versatile as her namesake. A fast-response cutter of the Sentinel class, she’s equipped with a remote-controlled 25 mm autocannon, four crew-operated M2 Browning machine guns and assorted light arms. Moreover, she can house and launch an auxiliary speedboat to help with her principal missions — search-and-rescue operations, port security and interception of smugglers.

An Ohio native, Richard Snyder, who died on his 67th birthday in 1989, was a third-generation horseman, as his father Clare and grandfather William both were blacksmiths. In fact, according to family lore, Clare played a small, off-screen role in the 1944 film Back Home in Indiana, which was partially shot at Ohio’s Marion County Fairgrounds and still stands as arguably the most famous harness racing movie ever. When the director needed his equine star to appear lame, Clare Snyder attached a block to the animal’s foot to cause a brief, harmless limp.

“When they were done shooting,” Doug Snyder says, “they had some brown and gold silks left over. That’s how Dad and the rest of us got our brown and gold colors.”

Richard Snyder was well known for his ability to shoe and balance trotters, skills he took to all corners of American harness racing, including western New York and Chicagoland. Doug Snyder recalls that his father’s last drive came at Pompano Park in 1983. Because most of his starts occurred before the United States Trotting Association began compiling and archiving such data, his statistical record is lost to posterity. What is known is the success of his offspring. Consider the family of Richard Snyder and his late wife Roselyn:

  • Doug, who has recorded 6,473 driving wins worth more than $30.4 million in purses as well as 438 training victories; Doug’s wife Jan, a Standardbred owner and force in the erstwhile 2:00 Club at The Meadows; their son, Douglas Snyder Jr., who works in the business; their daughter, Elizabeth, 14, an avid barrel rider
  • Dane, who’s compiled 1,834 victories (since 1992) and more than $11.6 million in purses; Dane’s wife Kathy, longtime race charter for The Meadows; their daughter Danielle, a Standardbred owner at The Meadows
  • Dee Louise, sister of Doug and Dane, who is married to veteran Illinois horseman Perry Smith, he of the 1,615 training victories and 711 winning drives

All are planning to attend the commissioning while Danielle Snyder, who will serve as the ship’s official sponsor, already has made a pilgrimage to the cutter.

“They want a sponsor to keep up with the ship and attend future ceremonies,” she says. “I’ll be giving a speech at the commissioning and presenting a gift — a framed plaque with Grandpa Dick’s photograph and all his medals and ribbons.”

As many military veterans, Richard Snyder did not speak often of his war experiences. Says Doug Snyder: “When Dane wanted to enlist to go to Vietnam, I remember Dad telling him: ‘I did enough for both of you guys. You don’t have to do anything else.’ But he didn’t talk much about it. Some of the things they lived through you never get over.”

Now, the Richard Snyder will speak for him.