It was a bittersweet weekend. On Saturday, at a ceremony at Fort Lawton, the Army formally apologized to 28 black soldiers wrongly convicted at a court-martial nearly 64 years ago (or rather, apologized to their families who could make it). Then early Sunday morning, Samuel Snow, one of the two remaining veterans, died in a Seattle hospital hours after happily receiving his honorable discharge after all these years.
Evidence was destroyed, at the order of the commanding officer, Colonel Harry Branson, at the scene the next morning following the August 14, 1944 riot at Fort Lawton involving (mostly) black soldiers against Italian Prisoners of War, which included the lynching of one Italian soldier, Guglielmo Olivotto. Prosecuting attorney, Leon Jaworski, withheld that fact and evidence of the involvement of white soldiers in stirring up the riot, and that a white MP (military policeman) was the probable murderer of Olivotto.
Journalist Jack Hamann and his wife were finally able to track down those details through recently declassified documents in 2002. He published those details in his book, On American Soil, which inspired Representative Jim McDermott and (with, it turns out, a little help from Hamann’s mother) Rep. Jim Hunter to have the Army Board for Correction of Military Records review the convictions (and, indeed, they overturned the convictions).
So, after 64 years, with only two of the soldiers, at the time, remaining by last Saturday’s ceremony, finally justice. One of the soldiers being finally able to hold his honorable discharge just hours before he died.
In a column last November, Robert Jamieson reported Samuel Snow was not bitter, and never bad mouthed the Army.
“Yes, I felt I had been served an injustice,” Sam Snow said when we caught up this week. “But I decided I wasn’t going to hold a grievance against nobody.”
Finally, this Saturday, Samuel Snow had justice restored.
As reported in the Seattle PI:
When the moment Samuel Snow waited most of his life for finally came, he didn’t speak. He just took the plaque affirming his honorable discharge – an honor that had been stolen from him more than six decades ago – held it against his chest in a Seattle hospital bed, and smiled.
That moment Saturday, family said, made his life complete.
A few hours later, Snow died at age 83.
“My father went home,” son Ray Snow said, “to present his God his discharge papers from this life.”