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July 29th, 2008
03:10 PM ET

After 64 years, a last minute apology

Watch Samuel Snow, a former imprisoned U.S. Army officer who received $725 after an unfair trial. CNN's David Mattingly interviewed Mr. Snow last year. Here is his report.
Watch Samuel Snow, a former imprisoned U.S. Army officer who received $725 after an unfair trial. CNN's David Mattingly interviewed Mr. Snow last year. Here is his report.

Chuck Hadad
AC360° Producer

Samuel Snow was one of two surviving World War Two veterans of one of the biggest military trials of the war. He had been wrongly convicted and imprisoned for a crime that over sixty years later, he said he didn’t commit. When I met him late last year, the Army had recently overturned his conviction and awarded him the wages he’d lost while behind bars for 15 months: $725.

At the time, our story focused on the rather small sum awarded Snow that didn’t factor in interest or inflation, not to mention the myriad of benefits denied to him for receiving a dishonorable discharge like those provided by the GI Bill.
Snow was one of 28 black soldiers convicted of rioting one night at Seattle’s Fort Lawton that left an Italian POW hanged to death. Two of the 28 were also convicted of man-slaughter and sentenced to 15 years. Last October, the Army determined they didn’t get a fair trial and over-turned all convictions and sent Samuel his check.

As an Army private in 1944, Snow was convicted of rioting and sent to prison for 15 months.

As an Army private in 1944, Snow was convicted of rioting and sent to prison for 15 months.

I went to interview Snow at his son’s home in Leesburg, Florida with CNN correspondent David Mattingly. We found Snow to be proud of the life he made for himself despite the handicap of being labeled a convicted criminal in the segregated South. His son Ray confided to us that although he wouldn’t admit it, the conviction hung heavy over his father his entire life. Samuel was 83 at the time and in poor health.

The Army told us that their hands were tied by law and that it wasn’t in military regulations to factor in any compensation beyond lost wages. Since our story first aired, there was a bill working its way through Congress that would have paved the way to award Samuel Snow a larger sum. David Mattingly and I would keep tabs with all of our contacts involved with the story in the hopes that one day, we could report that Snow had been given another check but this time not be insulted by the dollar amount.

This past weekend, Snow flew to Seattle with his family to attend a ceremony on the grounds where Fort Lawton once stood to be honored by the Army for wrongs they were still trying to right. Unfortunately the night before the ceremony he was admitted to the hospital for heart problems. On Saturday, his son attended in his place and heard the words his father longed to hear since 1944, “The Army is genuinely sorry,” said Ronald James, assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs, according to the Associated Press.

Samuel Snow, 83, wanted medical benefits and retirement pay from the Army since his conviction was overturned

Samuel Snow, 83, wanted medical benefits and retirement pay from the Army since his conviction was overturned

I was aware of the tribute going on in Seattle and as I had been since first meeting Samuel in December, was still tracking the progress of the bill in Congress. On Sunday, I received an email from the office of the Seattle Congressman supporting that bill that felt like a punch in the stomach. It announced that at 12:48 that morning, Samuel had died.

It felt like a tragedy for him never to have gotten the money he felt he was owed for his wrongful conviction so many years ago but as I continued reading the email, I was heartened to discover that Samuel was awarded in another way. The Army officially changed his status from dishonorable discharge to honorable and on Saturday night, while at his hospital bed, his son read to him his honorable discharge plaque and Samuel smiled broadly in the knowledge that his name had finally been cleared. He died hours later with his son at his side. Ray Snow said, “My dad has been standing in formation all these years waiting to have his name cleared. With the Army’s honorable discharge he was at ease. He now has his discharge papers and he went home.”

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Filed under: 360° Radar • Chuck Hadad
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. J.V.hodgson

    One more comment.Re Mr. Snow.
    The honour, dignity and genuine meaningful patriotism of Mr. Snow has my undying respect and even the so called mortal sin of "pride" in his behaviour relative to the fundamental belief of all reasonable individuals in basic humanity.

    I would consider it one of the most memorable and desirable occasions, were it possible ,which it is not unfortunately ;of my puny existence to have been able share even 5 seconds of Mr Snow's time.
    May he rest in everlasting peace of mind and know that his god respects him as well.
    Money? it is a piitance and unworthy compensation to wealth he finally acquired before his tragic death.
    Regards,
    Hodgson.

    July 30, 2008 at 8:57 am |
  2. J.V.hodgson

    Two sentences after this which you will moderate out.
    1) His colour is irrelevant, he is a human being with rights.
    2) This deserves the two epithhets of "Shame on all involved" and "god damn america for this patent injustice".
    But then again, "god bless America for its courage to raise the subject".
    Strange world is it not!?
    Regards,
    Hodgson.

    July 30, 2008 at 8:34 am |
  3. Janna

    Larry, Brotha & Kent, did you read this part of the story?

    "Last October, the Army determined they didn’t get a fair trial and over-turned all convictions "

    That doesn't automatically mean they were innocent! Judging from his need for official redemption, I suspect that this particular soldier may have been innocent. At any rate, your reactions seem a bit over the top

    July 29, 2008 at 11:22 pm |
  4. Annie Kate

    I'm glad Samuel was still alive when his discharge was changed from dishonorable to honorable – that probably meant more to him than a check. The military certainly took their time in clearing his name.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    July 29, 2008 at 9:36 pm |
  5. Larry

    Has there never been a movie made about this? Where's Spike Lee?

    July 29, 2008 at 8:02 pm |
  6. Gary Chandler in Canada

    was there or was there not a riot?
    was there, or not, a lynching?
    did anybody do it?
    did the Italalian pow get 'justice'?
    was Snow there, or not?
    if he was innocent, did he see anything?
    -
    okay, the 28 didn't have a good lawyer?
    what did the Italian have?

    July 29, 2008 at 7:17 pm |
  7. GF, Los Angeles

    This is beyond the money...it's about him clearing his name and given an honorable discharge. I'm glad he got that before he passed.

    July 29, 2008 at 6:32 pm |
  8. Kent Fitzsimmons,Kewanee, IL

    That is heartbreaking..........man you just want to cry reading this. Living a life in disgrace until just before you die..........I just don't know what to say. I feel bad for him.................

    July 29, 2008 at 6:13 pm |
  9. Mike in NYC

    How about an apology to the family of the Italian soldier who was lynched?

    brotha gabe wrote:

    "The dollar amount was the real slap in the face."

    Here's another "dollar amount":

    Over $1 trillion transferred from whites to blacks in the form of entitlement programs paid for almost exclusively by whites.

    You’re going to tell me that doesn’t do anything to make up for “injustice”?

    What is it with all these decades-old stories about “justice delayed” and "overdue apologies”? Oh, I forgot, this is how we promote racial healing.

    These white guilt trips are getting old, and this white guy is getting bored.

    July 29, 2008 at 5:44 pm |
  10. Gary Chandler in Canada

    Sad story for a black man, but horror story for an Italian.
    This report has more questions than answers. Was anybody convicted for the lynching? Was Snow one of the 26 convicted of rioting or one of the 2 convicted for man-slaughter?
    It 'appears' all 28 are exonerated? So, there's a murderer, or murderers, of the Italian pow out there now?
    ---
    "Snow was one of 28 black soldiers convicted of rioting one night at Seattle’s Fort Lawton that left an Italian POW hanged to death. Two of the 28 were also convicted of man-slaughter and sentenced to 15 years. Last October, the Army determined they didn’t get a fair trial and over-turned all convictions and sent Samuel his check."

    July 29, 2008 at 5:40 pm |
  11. brotha gabe

    i used to be a soldier and im not the least bit surprised how this black man was treatedl. It makes me sad to know that as black people put their lives on the line every day for a country that fears and in turn hates us.The dollar amount was the real slap in the face.

    July 29, 2008 at 5:03 pm |
  12. Larry

    Once again an african american is treated with injustice by white society.

    July 29, 2008 at 4:54 pm |