Bob Snell knows how to seize a moment. In December 1946, he and a friend attended a dance at the Half Moon Grange and he spotted Dee Brooks.
“She was with another guy,” recalled Bob.
But when her date left for the restroom, Bob took advantage of his absence.
“He asked me to dance,” Dee said, laughing. “I liked the other fellow, but I liked Bob better. He had big blue eyes and he was so tall and handsome.”
By the time her date returned to claim her, Bob had secured Dee’s phone number. Or so he thought. Weeks passed and Dee wondered why her blue-eyed dance partner didn’t call. It turns out Bob had her address but not her phone number.
Undeterred, he spent hours going through the phone book, trying to match her address with a phone number. “I finally found it,” he said.
His persistence had been honed during his time in the service. After graduating from Deer Park High School in 1942, Bob received a draft notice. “I wanted to join the Navy, but I flunked the color-blind test, so I joined the Army.”
After completing basic training, he decided to become a paratrooper. Bob said, “My biggest motivation was greed – they doubled my salary!”
He quickly found out he’d be earning that pay. The young soldier had never even been on an airplane. Six decades later, he shook his head as he recalled, “On my first plane ride, they made me jump out!”
Soon his unit traveled to North Africa. “I was there for a while – we were kind of lost, I guess.”
From there they were sent to Italy where Bob received a lasting wartime souvenir during the battle of Anzio. While under heavy fire, he took cover at the corner of a house. As he fired his rifle, an enemy bullet penetrated his right arm, shattering both the bones.
“I guess I was lucky. I got it there,” he said pointing to his arm, “Instead of here,” he said, and thumped his chest.
Medics set his arm in a field hospital and Bob was sent to a hospital in Walla Walla to recuperate. After seven months and several surgeries, he finally returned home. Due to nerve and muscle damage, he still can’t completely unclench his right hand.
But those scars didn’t stop him from dancing with Dee. Or from asking her out once he finally tracked down her phone number.
Their first date proved memorable. “We went out to dinner,” Bob said. “I ordered fish and got a fish bone caught in my throat and started choking.”
Did his date rush to his rescue? Did she call for help?
Dee said, “I started laughing and I couldn’t stop!”
However, her less than empathetic reaction didn’t keep Bob from asking for a second date, and a third. Three months after that first date, he proposed.
“I thought it was a little soon,” Dee said. “But I said yes, right away – I didn’t want to lose him.”
The couple married on Dec. 31, 1947, and spent their wedding night at the Davenport Hotel.
Bob worked for Remington Rand as a typewriter repairman for many years and later spent 26 years working for ABC Office Equipment.
In 1948, Dee gave birth to their first child, a son they named Steve. The family grew with the addition of two daughters, one in 1949 and another in 1954. And in 1964, when Steve was a senior in high school, a third daughter made a surprise appearance.
Like many parents, the Snells’ time with their kids at home flew by in a whirl of sporting events and school activities. The family’s home in Chattaroy on the banks of the Little Spokane River was a busy place.
When Bob retired and the kids had flown the nest the couple enjoyed traveling. Sadly, their son Steve battled melanoma and passed away at 35. But they took comfort in their growing brood of grandchildren. “Steve’s son is the spitting image of his dad,” Dee said.
Five years ago, another grandson accompanied Bob on a trip to Italy. They revisited many of the places he’d been during the war, and Bob returned with a certificate of honor from the citizens of Anzio that read in part, “To those who fought so valiantly, without fearing for their own lives.”
“We found a few buildings that were there when I was and we went to the national cemetery,” said Bob. “I brought home a jar of sand from Anzio.”
In July, Bob traveled to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II Memorial courtesy of the Honor Flight program. He said, “It was pretty moving.”
The Snells admit their marital seas haven’t always offered smooth sailing. “We’ve had a lot of disagreements,” Bob said.
Dee agreed. “We’ve always said what was on our minds.”
But her husband quickly pointed out, “We listen to each other. We don’t have any secrets.” And he’s delighted that the moment he seized more than six decades ago has resulted in a lifetime love affair.
When asked which years have been their happiest, Bob puzzled over the question. Finally, he looked at Dee and said, “They’ve all been happy.” She smiled back at him. “We’ve had a wonderful life.”