Memorial Day Tradition Marks Miraculous Discovery and Closure for Chilton Hospital Employee|
Teresa Guide displays a palm cross, one of the items that she decorates graves with on holidays. She is also holding two photos of her and her late brother, Petey. She decorates George Snodgrass’ military grave in honor of him.
Memorial Day traditionally marks the start of the summer season, celebrated with barbeques and a migration to the shore. We must never forget that it is a solemn occasion devoted to honoring soldiers who perished in battle. This holiday especially hits home for Chilton Hospital’s Patient Food Service Supervisor Teresa Guide.
George Snodgrass was killed in Vietnam on March 15, 1966. It was the day before his 21st birthday. Guide was only 13 years old at the time she heard the news. It was devastating because her family was very close with Snodgrass. He was a neighbor on Mandeville Street in the closely knit Pompton Lakes community. Snodgrass grew up in a foster home since infancy until he enlisted in the U.S. Army.
“That day will forever be ingrained in my head,” Guide recalled. “When soldiers came to our door to report the bad news, my mother ran down the hall and gave the most blood-curdling scream that I’ll never forget. My father left work to pick up the other foster children in the family at school.”
Unfortunately, Snodgrass’ foster mother was uncooperative whenever questioned about where he was buried. It became a mission for Guide, her brother Petey and a soldier named Jim Wilson. Snodgrass and Wilson met during boot camp at Fort Dix and became good friends while stationed in Hawaii for 18 months.
“George was originally shot in the leg and it looked like he was going to live,” Guide explained. “Jim put him on a MedEvac helicopter and said ‘I’ll see you in a couple of days.’ Soon after, he was shot through the helicopter and killed.”
Wilson, who was a Montclair native, eventually moved to Pompton Lakes, where he sought closure after many years of painful memories. He met Billy “Smitty” Smith, a Pompton Lakes police officer, at their sons’ little league game. Smitty tried to get information from Snodgrass’ foster mother for Wilson, but only received information that he was buried at “Arlington.”
Guide’s family and Wilson spent each every Memorial Day honoring Snodgrass and two other soldiers from Pompton Lakes (George Carlough and Donald Miller) who perished during the war. The Vietnam memorial was originally at Hershfield Park and later moved to Freedom Square in the late 1980s at the intersection of Lakeside Avenue and Jefferson Avenue. However, these memorial sites never seemed to fully serve justice.
“My brother had been decorating the Vietnam Veterans monument at Hershfield Park until it was moved,” Guide said. “Petey passed away in 1993. Everyone accepted the fact that we would never know where George was buried.” Not knowing the location of Snodgrass’ gravesite was particularly tough for Wilson when the U.S. went to war in the Middle East after 9/11.
George Snodgrass’ gravesite after it had been cleaned off and decorated by Teresa Guide on May 25, 2013.
Their quest for the gravesite began long before the Internet. However, this new technology eventually helped Snodgrass’ friends find some answers in 2007. Feeling the need for closure, Wilson and the other veterans from Pompton Lakes decided to again pursue the location of the gravesite.
Snodgrass wasn’t buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia at all. Instead, it was North Arlington, New Jersey, much closer to home. Even more miraculous was that the grave was at Holy Cross Cemetery, where Guide had been already decorating graves of family members for each major religious holiday! Now she could take over for her brother.
A woman who worked at the cemetery told Guide the plot number where Snodgrass was buried. She assumed it was an error when seeing the name “Joseph Kowalski” carved into the stone. When Guide then called the main office about the mistake, she found out that Joe Kowalski was Snodgrass’ foster mother’s brother. To make matters worse, the woman she spoke to was less than sympathetic, which infuriated Guide.
Although Snodgrass’ name wasn’t on the grave, she cleaned it up and planted geraniums and an American flag. Afterward, she stormed over to her local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) office and told them what happened. They assured her that it would be taken care of. “The following Memorial Day, they dedicated Snodgrass’ site with a proper marker and he was given a full military service,” Guide said. Before the event, she gathered her family and as many people from Mandeville Street as she could find for the occasion. In addition, Congressman William Pascrell, who aided in the search, was present as well.
Guide now fixes up Snodgrass’ grave not just every Memorial Day, but every Christmas and Easter when she is there to decorate her family members’ sites. She also tries to make it every year on his birthday. “For Memorial Day, my nephew helps me with spring cleanup and planting, in memory of his father,” she said.
For many years, Pompton Lakes has held a Memorial Day parade beginning at Freedom Square Lodge and ending at VFW Post 2906 with food and drinks. “Every year, I take pictures of George’s cleaned-up site and share them with his high school friends at the VFW so that everyone is reassured that his grave was taken care of,” Guide said.
Wilson has also found the closure he needed. He was instrumental is getting an honorary street sign for Snodgrass, right above the Mandeville Street sign. There is even a “Snodgrass Field” in Hershfield Park. “Although Jim and Petey never actually met, I think they would have become great friends,” Guide said.
Chilton Hospital is a fully accredited, 260-bed, acute-care, community hospital. It is the first hospital in New Jersey to received Pathway to Excellence designation from the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Chilton recently embarked on a $24 million modernization project, which includes the Cardiovascular Interventional Lab, The Breast Center and the Total Joint Center. It is also a four-time recipient of the HealthGrades Specialty Excellence Award in Stroke, and Five-Star Rated for Stroke Care, the highest possible, for six years in a row. In addition, Chilton is also Five-Star Rated for Joint Replacement and Total Knee Replacement for 2012. Chilton’s many services include a state-of-the-art Emergency Department, the Sleep Health Institute, the Comprehensive Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Center, the Chilton Cancer Center, the MotherBaby Center a weight loss surgery program and minimally invasive and robot-assisted surgery. The hospital is located at 97 West Parkway in Pompton Plains, NJ 07444. For more information about Chilton's facilities and services, or to find a doctor by name, specialty, or location, please visit www.chiltonhealth.org or call 1-888-CHILTON.