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Detroit trip sparks memories, hopes for former National Guardsman who served during riots

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Fifty years ago, a brand-new Michigan National Guardsman, David Snyder of Kalamazoo, found himself on the front lines of the deadly riots in Detroit.

He then found himself on the front page of “Life” magazine, as the unidentified guardsman forced into the flames on a moment’s notice during one of our state’s most turbulent times.

Returning to Detroit, Snyder shares the backstory behind this now-famous photo, and meets someone he never previously got the chance to.

Snyder’s story begins one night in July of 1967, when he received an urgent message to report to his armory in Grand Rapids right away.

“This was at night,” Snyder recalled. “I got to the armory and we had loaded our duffel bags and got our rifles, and they loaded us on a bus.”

He arrived in Detroit to find the city on fire. He and a few other guardsmen were dropped off at a gun shop at 12th and Forest.

But they soon found out, they were on their own.

“Well, they forgot where they left us and we tried to call in but it was, I mean it was bedlam,” Snyder said. “We had no food, no money, no change of clothes. Nothing!”

Snyder was forced to fend for himself for seven days with no bullets, no way to communicate and nothing to eat.

Recently, David, and his son joe, returned to the now abandoned corner where the gun shop stood and he sat for days.

For Joe, the trip was especially eye-opening.

“I would always pull that ‘Life’ magazine out, never knowing anything about the riots. Never knowing that this is what he had to go through” Joe said.

“I had no idea that this is what he actually did in the National Guard. It’s pretty awesome to think that he was part of history.”

Down the block, the Snyders ran into a woman named Olivia Gaines who was trapped like David by the violence. She’d moved into her home in the same month that David joined the Guard. Four months later, he was deployed and she was rushing home to protect her kids from the fire and gunfire erupting all around them.

“Everything was burning; you just didn’t know what was going on” Gaines recalled. “So what I did, just waited right here.”

Although David and Olivia had never met, they shared their eerily similar memories of that horrible week that held them both hostage.

And they both agreed, given the current racial tensions, the riots could happen again if people aren’t careful and people aren’t caring.


Follow Andy Dominianni on Twitter @WWMTAndyD

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