Through the years, Gary Snyder’s had plenty to keep busy, what with a 43-year career at Holmes-Wayne Electric Cooperative; raising three kids with his wife, Karin; and all the mowing and chores on his 6-acre property just outside Millersburg. Yet in the back of his mind, Snyder, a Vietnam veteran, always mused about finding a way to honor his brothers-in-arms who didn’t come home from the war.
It was the pandemic that moved him to action. “I was just sitting around, getting outside, kind of bored,” he says. “We have a lot of space out here, and I started thinking I ought to put in a memorial for my buddies who didn’t make it back.”
And so, he did. With the help of landscapers, stonemasons, contractors, and monument-makers, Snyder funded and built an impressive military memorial right in his backyard.
Situated in a peaceful setting, surrounded by towering trees, the memorial centers on a hexagon-shaped stone terrace enveloped on three sides by stone walls of varying heights. Topping one wall are stone markers honoring the four U.S. service branches — Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines — along with POWs.
A massive bronze plaque honors Snyder’s comrades. Among them, Larry Barton, his best friend from high school, who was killed in ’Nam in 1967 just 200 miles from where Snyder was fighting. A cousin, Jerry Spitler. A few other classmates. And a pilot who “was my rear seat-pilot in an F4 fighter bomber,” Snyder says. “He later was shot down over Cambodia in 1970, and his remains were never found.”
Snyder grew up in Holmes County and served three Vietnam tours in the Air Force and Army from 1967 to 1969. Once he got back home, he worked for four decades at Holmes-Wayne Electric — he’s still a member — starting as an apprentice lineman before serving as first class lineman and foreman and later overseeing line projections and service plans.
When he first returned from Vietnam in 1969 to an apathetic America, a bright spot was meeting Karin. “I was just driving around one afternoon in Wayne County and saw her driving the other way. I thought, wow, I have to meet that girl.” So he turned his car around, flagged her down, and they’ve been together ever since.
Today, the couple enjoys puttering around their property with rescue dog Summi and spending lots of time with their grown children and six grandkids. The couple likes to light the firepit at the military memorial in the evenings and relish the peaceful setting.
But it’s times alone that Snyder really feels the presence of his buddies.
“If I’m out there by myself, I can think about them, I can see their faces, and you know it’s just like they’re with me,” he says.
“They never became husbands. Never became fathers or grandfathers. I try to live my life to honor them, and I hope I did a good job of it.”