Snyder during the Korean War / Provided photo
Born: Aug. 25, 1931
Residence: Palm Desert
Branch of service: U.S. Navy
Years served: Oct. 31, 1950 – Oct. 30, 1954
Rank: Second Class Petty Officer
Family: Wife Waltrene (deceased); two children, Karen Axelrod of Redondo Beach and Kelly Schulz of San Francisco; one grandson
Snyder now resides in Palm Desert. / Provided photo
U.S. Navy veteran Don Snyder — a “hard hat” underwater welder during the Korean War — repaired ships damaged by exploding mines.
After completing boot camp at Naval Training Center San Diego, he went to welder’s school — the land-based type — and was assigned as a welder aboard the escort carrier USS Windham Bay (CVE-92).
The ship ferried aircraft between the U.S. and Yokosuka, Japan, which, according to U.S. miliary reports, is America's most important naval facility in the western Pacific, and the largest, most strategically important overseas U.S. Naval installation in the world.
Snyder was later transferred to the heavy-haul, artillery repair ship USS Jason (ARH-1). He returned to San Diego in April, 1952 and was assigned to hard hat diving and underwater welding school.
“Before we started, we had a six-week course of class training. I passed that with flying colors. Some of the guys washed out.”
Then came the bigger challenge. Putting on the clunky diving gear, including the huge, otherwordly-looking copper and brass helmet.
“I was claustrophobic. I was terrified the first time I went into the hard helmet and the heavy diving suit … when I put on the helmet, I was thinking, ‘what am I doing here?’”
Snyder, who was 150 pounds at the time, was weighed down with about an additional 300 pounds, including the weighted belt and big lead boots.
After completing his training, he went aboard the attack transport USS Logan (APA-196), bound for Yokosuka, where he repaired damaged ships limping back from Korea.
“The ships were still seaworthy,” he said. “They’d have big holes on the side from mines. We’d repair them just enough to get them to glide out to the dry dock.”
“We used the same dry dock in Yokosuka during the Korean War that the Japanese used in World War II.”
His new job took a little getting used to, he said.
“The first time they lowered me over the side on a big platform, I wondered, ‘what would happen if one of the lines got tangled before I completed the job?’”
The lines supplied oxygen to the divers, who worked in pairs for about an hour at a time. He made it back safely every time.
When he was home on Christmas leave in December of 1952, he suffered a major appendix attack and was rushed to the naval hospital in Corona for surgery. By the time he recovered, his ship, the USS Jason, had already sailed back to Japan, so in mid-January, 1953, he had to hop aboard the USS Stone County (LST 1141) to rejoin his shipmates.
“On the way over, we stopped in Guam where they had the best, big T-bone steaks for 50 cents.”
The ship also made a stop in Iwo Jima, where remnants of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, fought in February and March of 1945, still remained.
“On top of one of the hills was a Japanese Zero that crashed there,” he said.
After completing his wartime duties, Snyder starting working at Paramount Studios in Hollywood as a men’s costumer.
“My father was a cameraman and he knew the head of the wardobe — he wanted someone to work in the stock department. I worked my way up from stock clerk to key costumer.”
His father, Edward Snyder — a U.S. Army vet — got his start in the movie business in New York after serving as a newsreel photographer during World War I.
His parents moved to Hollywood in 1927 — about four years before Don Snyder was born.
Don and his mom attended the Academy Awards in 1948 — the year his father was nominated in the category of Special Effects for the film, “Deep Waters.” “Portrait of Jenny,” ended up being the winner. It was the same year Laurence Olivier earned the Best Actor award for his role in “Hamlet.”
The modest son needed a little nudging to talk about his own accomplishments during a 37 year career in show business.
He was the key men’s costumer in numerous television series and movies — his specialty was military costuming — and his favorite of all was, ironically, “McHale’s Navy,” starring Ernest Borgnine.
“He was great,” Snyder said. “Waltrene (Snyder’s wife, who died earlier this year) and I became good friends with Ernie and his wife Tova.”
Other TV series included “Leave it to Beaver,” “Gilligan’s Island,” “F Troop,” “Kojak,” “Knight Rider,” “Harper Valley PTA,” “Six Million Dollar Man,” “Bionic Woman,” “Matlock,” “Fantasy Island,” and “Major Dad.”
Snyder worked on the TV mini-series’ War and Remembrance series with Robert Mitchum, the Centennial series with Robert Conrad and Richard Chamberlain, and other military-themed films including “Bridges at Toko-Ri” with William Holden, “Mister Roberts” with Jack Lemmon and Henry Fonda, “The Caine Mutiny” with Humphrey Bogart, and “Green Berets” with John Wayne.
“I worked on “Psycho” with (Albert) Hitchcock at Paramount. He was quiet. He was business only.”
He also costumed Paul Newman and Robert Redford in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” Elvis Presley in “Change of Habit,” Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in “White Christmas,” and Bob Hope in “Seven Little Foys.”