Ray Snyder was born in January 1925 in Reinbeck, Iowa, the second of four children. His father was an auto salesman, until the depression, when he worked as a mechanic to support his family. Snyder walked to a consolidated grammar school, and had a paper route. A Navy veteran of World War 1, Snyder's father eventually operated a car dealership where Snyder had summer work during his high school years. Snyder's father steered him toward a college education at Annapolis.
Ray Snyder's acceptance into Annapolis was delayed a year, and while waiting, he had begun classes at what is now the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. His family and community were up on world events. He was 16 when a radio broadcast brought the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He noted that not many people knew the location of Pearl Harbor. Snyder's initial reaction was curiosity, and he remembers realizing the result would be world war. Snyder enlisted in the Navy in the summer of 1942. He had the option to take aviation training or shipboard duty. As a 17 year old, his choice was to fly, however, he did not get to fly until years later.
As a sophomore in college, Ray Snyder was put into the V-1 program at the University of Dubuque, which he referred to as a "holding pen" for apprentice seamen until the Navy needed them. Snyder was one of six physics students sent to the University of Illinois, where work was ongoing for the Manhattan Project. Although they were never told about it, some of their professors were German-Jewish expatriates, and the students knew there was an ongoing race with Germany to build an atomic bomb. He was in college all through the rest of the war, but didn't feel he was being overlooked, knowing that only one in 25 Navy men actually came under fire. He said he had three things in common with all other Navy men: he went where they told him, he did what they told him, and he kept his mouth shut.
Ray Snyder graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in Engineering Physics, and was commissioned in October 1945. He was sent to sea on the USS Shangri-La (CV-38). On the Shangri-La, which was involved in the atomic bomb tests in the Bikini Atol, Snyder was a communications watch officer, typing coded messages. It was not a very exciting job. During his tenure on the Shangri-La he sailed into port at Pearl Harbor and was reminded of the devastation of the Japanese attack.
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