BLOOMINGTON — A recent visitor to the cozy home in the middle of the 200 block of West Chestnut Street hadn’t spoken at length with its owner since 1997.
That was the year John Snyder ended a 39-year Hall of Fame career as Central Catholic High School’s basketball coach.
His guest quickly realized the past 22 years have done nothing to change the personality of the now 87-year-old Snyder. He was as energized and animated as ever, his gravelly voice the perfect instrument to deliver salty vocabulary.
Without being asked, Snyder said, “I’m one of those people who can say they had a full life. I’ve enjoyed a hell of a life in my mind.”
As with any life, Snyder’s had moments that impacted everything that followed. Among the biggest such events was having the GI bill pay for college. The saddest came in 1945 when the 14-year-old Snyder's parents died in an auto accident.
After Snyder graduated from Cornell in 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea.
“It didn’t mean nothing to me, a high school kid,” Snyder remembers.
What did get his attention later was the introduction of a draft. A friend suggested they enlist in the Marines. During their physicals, the friend failed the vision test, but Snyder passed and was soon on his way to 14 weeks of boot camp in San Diego.
“When you come out of that, you are one (with your fellow Marines),” Snyder said. “You don’t question (anything). It’s ‘yes sir, no sir.’”
Ten months after enlisting, Snyder’s troop ship arrived in Korea.
“I didn’t have it as bad as a lot of units,” he remembers. “We were in more of a defensive position all the time.”
Snyder was quickly promoted to corporal and then captain of a 13-man squad. All 13 survived their year-long tour of duty, but there were scary moments.
Once Snyder’s squad was fired upon. Without hesitation, his men followed Snyder’s order to take cover.
“We go over there and realize it was probably a single sniper,” Snyder said. “Now he doesn’t fire on us and we know why because we’ve got three automatic weapons.
“After the fact (you are scared), after it was a close situation. After the fact, maybe you get a little shaken.”
Throughout that year, Snyder took comfort in one idea.
“I always felt, ‘it’s not going to be me (that dies),’” he said. “For some reason, I had that kind of a thought.”
Snyder found more danger during training exercises in the Caribbean after returning from Korea. He was hospitalized twice, once for carbon monoxide poisoning and once for two months to battle an infection and jaundice.
After turning down a $2,000 bonus to re-up, Snyder returned home without fanfare.
“That’s the way it was,” he said. “You knew that you were respected.”
With GI Bill funding, Snyder enrolled at Illinois State Normal University where he met his wife, Sandy. They’ll celebrate their 59th anniversary next month.
Last month, he celebrated his military service during an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. At first, he didn't want to go, but then went in honor of fellow soldiers, 33,686 of whom were killed in Korea.
“I came back, had a life," he said. "A lot of them had no life."