Remembering a hometown hero
Tucked back at the end of North College Street stands a VFW post. Its sign bears the name “Ben D. Snowden.” Most don’t know who Ben was. But John Snowden remembers his younger brother—a daring boy who became a man, who became a hero.
Ben grew up on the family farm off County Road 110. Picking cotton, feeding animals, and doing chores instilled a strong work ethic in the young daredevil. “Ben was always taking risks,” John recalls.” My dad had an old 1946 Buick. Ben took it out on CR 110, on the straightaway, and drove 100 miles an hour. He was probably 15 years old at the time.”
Not long after, Ben boldly walked into the Marine recruiter’s office in Austin. John had joined up a few weeks before, and Ben was determined to follow. There was only one problem—he was two years too young. The recruiter sent him home, but Ben’s desire to serve remained.
“The day he turned 17, Ben got our dad to sign for him, and he went out and enlisted in the Army,” says John. In 1954, Ben kissed his mother and little sister Carra and said goodbye to civilian life.
The boy who always pushed the envelope became a man of focused intent. He attended Airborne School and Ranger School—each a step towards his ultimate goal. In 1963, Ben became a member of the Green Berets. “He was very happy that he’d finally got on—he was in Special Operations, a very elite group,” John explains. “He felt like he had arrived, as far as an enlisted man in the military.”
Ben served with the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and did three tours in Southeast Asia. His missions were shrouded in secrecy, but through them he established important relationships with indigenous people groups—a key factor in fighting the North Vietnamese and their allies. Ben was looking toward another tour of duty, but that wasn’t to be. He died a few months before his thirtieth birthday; his men and fellow Special Forces soldiers took it hard.
“He was such a personable guy. Everybody enjoyed being around him. Same way with his soldiers—they loved him,” says John. The day after Ben’s funeral, four of his Green Beret buddies—who’d flown a helicopter to Georgetown for the funeral—flew back the next morning just to have breakfast with Ben’s mother and John. They sat in her home, sharing personal stories about their friend.
It wasn’t until decades later, when Ben’s last mission was declassified, that John learned his brother died a hero. On June 15, 1967, Ben rode Chase—radio operator—on an H-34 Choctaw helicopter tasked with getting a Green Beret team on the ground in Laos. The team came under heavy fire from the North Vietnamese. Ben ordered the Choctaw back to save them, despite the danger. Unable to land, it hovered above the rough terrain. Ben was hit multiple times in the chest as he leaned his 6′6″ body out the side, reaching down to lift up his fellow soldiers.
For his act of gallantry, Master Sergeant Ben D. Snowden was posthumously awarded the Silver Star in November 2012. John watched as Ben’s widow, Betty, accepted the award the following March. He knew all the attention would’ve bewildered a man who was modest about such accolades. “If Ben had gone to his Silver Star ceremony when 200 people were there, he would have looked around and said, ‘What the hell are all of you doing here? I was just doing my job.’ That’s how he was.”