Tour Of D.C. Monuments
A Step Back In Time For
Retired Local Businessman
Warren L. Snead, Now 91
BY KEN LITTLE
A chance meeting led to an unforgettable day for 91-year-old World War II veteran Warren L. Snead.
Snead, of Greeneville, is one of a rapidly dwindling number of surviving World War II vets. At war's end in 1945, nearly 16 million veterans returned home. Today, that number stands at just over 1 million.
Thanks to the initiative of Snead's daughter, Mary Lee Fennessy, he traveled last week to Washington, D.C.
Snead, the retired president of the Bob Smith Construction Co., visited the National World War II Monument with fellow veterans from all service branches.
Snead, a decorated U.S. Army paratrooper, became one of the latest participants in the "Honor Flight Network,"which provides free air transport for World War II vets to Washington, to visit memorials dedicated to their service.
Like most vets, Snead rarely discusses the war. Thursday's trip with fellow World War II veterans, all in their 80s or 90s, helped trigger a flood of memories.
"He'll be 92 in October. He's one of the young ones," Fennessy said Friday during an interview with Snead at her father's condominium here.
The Washington trip was a moving experience for Snead.
"It was overwhelming," he said. "I thought my traveling days were over. It was one of the most wonderful, amazing experiences in my life."
Snead, a Virginia native who moved to Greeneville in 1960 and raised a family here with his late wife, Bettie Lee, now lives quietly in a condominium in east Greeneville. He's proud of his Army service.
Snead considers his part with the 463rd Parachute Field Artillery Battalion "a small contribution." Others see things differently.
After parachuting into southern France in August 1944 during "Operation Dragoon," part of the campaign to drive occupying German troops out of the country, Snead stepped on a land mine. He lost part of one leg below the ankle and wears a prosthetic replacement.
A FULL LIFE
Fennessy said her father never let the injury affect his quality of life.
Snead attended college on the G.I. Bill, obtained a law degree, had a successful business career, raised a family in Greeneville, and even got a pilot's license.
"I learned to dance," he added with a smile.
The Honor Flight trip to Washington helped close another chapter in Snead's journey, by allowing him to honor the memory of others who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
"It was a privilege to serve, to do your part and support all the blood and sweat and tears of others," Snead said. "I wanted to pay my way."
The opportunity to visit Washington came out of the blue for Snead, who has difficulty getting around these days.
"He's very patriotic and comes from a very patriotic family," said Fennessy, whose recent chance meeting with a man at the North Carolina restaurant where she works led to the Washington trip.
Fennessy, of Brevard, N.C., works at the Brown Trout Mountain Grille there.
One night several weeks ago, she struck up a conversation with diner Tom Fazio, a nationally known golf course designer.
Fazio noticed an unusual bracelet featuring paratrooper wings worn by Fennessy. The bracelet had first been worn by her mother, who died in 2008.
Talk between Fennessy and Fazio turned to their fathers, both Worth War II veterans.
Fazio is a good friend of Jeff Miller, the founder of the Honor Flight Network, an organization responsible for flying thousands of vets to Washington from across the country. Their veterans' expenses are paid for through donations.
PLAN FALLS INTO PLACE
A quick phone call by Fazio to Miller, who lives in Hendersonville, N.C., revealed that one of the Honor Flights was scheduled to leave Thursday for Washington from the Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C. airport. Two seats remained.
Because of his age, Snead had concerns about flying. But after a request by his daughter to give the idea serious consideration, Snead knew he had to participate.
It's a decision he will never regret.
"I was wonderfully overwhelmed," he said of the one-day trip. "It's surreal how it all came together."
There was one more surprise awaiting Snead when he arrived at Ronald Reagan National Airport on the charter flight.
His son, Dr. Warren L. Snead Jr., a pediatrician in Richmond, Va., was waiting when he and Fennessy got off the plane.
Fennessy made arrangements to have her brother meet them at the airport.
The family, as part of the veterans group, were taken on a bus tour of the World War II Memorial and other monuments, along with Arlington National Cemetery.
"I wanted to see the memorials. They are awe-inspiring and beautiful," Snead said. "The feeling you get from looking at them -- you can't copy that."
Snead is a fan of the Band of Brothers book by Stephen E. Ambrose and the subsequent television series, about a paratroop unit during World War II.
He has a first-hand understanding of the bonds formed among soldiers in wartime.
Spending the day with other vets during the trip to Washington rekindled many emotions.
"This wonderful trip, it brought back all those feelings," Snead said.
The Washington trip reminded Snead of his greeting when he returned home from overseas in 1945.
"It was wonderful. All the veterans were coming home, and they couldn't do enough for you," he said.
Cheering crowds greeted the veterans throughout their Washington visit. The vets were treated with great respect by the US Airways crew that flew them to Washington and back to South Carolina on Thursday.
"It was a day of continuous 'warm and fuzzies,'" Fennessy said. "It was really such a wonderful experience for everyone."
Fennessy said the World War II vets were treated "like royalty" on the tour, but Snead remains a humble man about his World War II experiences.
"We just wanted to do our duty," he said. "We weren't heroes."
Snead happened to be on the 300th Honor Flight.
"It's indescribable. I'm the luckiest man in the world to be here. Of all the things that have happened, this was the greatest," he said.
The Honor Flight Network is a nonprofit organization that has flown more than 100,000 veterans to Washington, D.C. It consists of 117 hubs across the country.
To get involved or donate to the cause, interested persons may visit http://www.honorflight.org.