WILFRED RAYMOND SNAKE
August 3, 1940 – December 2, 2012
Wilfred “Johnny Boy” Snake was a Native American of the Winnebago Tribe of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin. He was born on the Menominee Reservation to father Walter A Snake (1902-1979) and Ernestine Waupoose Snake (1905-1997) on August 3, 1940. Wilfred had 4 older sisters, Mary Elizabeth Snake (1930), Margaret Ann Snake (1932), Arlene Ruth Snake (1934), Edith Marie Snake (1939). Wilfred attended the Indian Elementary school near Antigo, WI. He graduated from Burbank High School in Milwaukee, WI then enlisted in the US Army shortly after in 1962.
Despite the few times duty and wanderlust caused him to roam, he always returned seeking the wisdom, comfort, and fellowship of his people.
In the initial stages of the United States presence in Vietnam, the clear lack of real-time intelligence nearly allowed the NVA to overrun Col. Hal Moore’s 1/7th Cav in the Ia Drang, a battle related in the book and movie “We Were Soldiers Once….and Young”. Shortly after that hard-won battle, the Cav was replaced by the 4th Infantry Division with the mission to “Tame the Ia Drang”. One of the first decisions was to determine how best to know the enemy. The solution was to insert 4-man teams of Rangers, then called LRRPs, to surreptitiously live in the jungle amongst the enemy. They would be inserted into the jungle for extended missions and patrol an area of suspected enemy concentration to uncover weaknesses. The first of these units was the 2nd Bde. LRRPs (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol) of the 4th Infantry Division. Wilford was in the original formation of the 2nd Bde LRRPs, in November 1966, selected by Lt. Mike Lapolla out of C Company, 2/8th Infantry BN, 4th Division. Knowing the extremely hazardous duties and the likelihood of incurring casualties, it was comprised exclusively of willing volunteers.
Wilfred earned his coveted Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Bronze Star for Valor, Purple Heart and numerous other awards and decorations. Upon his honorably discharge he worked as a civilian Security Officer for the US Air Force’s 440th Airlift Wing in Milwaukee, WI.
Prior to his military service, Wilfred married Maria Huber Snake in 1961. The childless marriage ended with a 1971 divorce in California, shortly after his return from overseas. In December of 1972, Wilfred married Sandra L. Peters Snake in Pierce, Washington. That marriage, also childless, lasted until a Milwaukee, Wisconsin divorce in 1984. Once again, in August of 1988 Wilfred “tied the knot” with Jaye Marie Hill Snake in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This one would last and they remained married 17 years until his death. In addition to “fostering” several children, they had daughter Cheyenne Snake, and two sons. The oldest son, David Snake (1983) proudly served in the US Army.
Life did not treat Wilfred kindly upon his return to Wisconsin. It’s even more accurate to say life was not kind for those family and friends who witnessed and endured his self-destructive behavior. Wilfred unsuccessfully fought a lifelong addiction to alcohol which caused him to abuse the very people who he needed and cared for him most. Rather than recall wonderful memories of growing up in beautiful Wisconsin, his children are haunted by a childhood quite different. His abusive conduct culminated in 2004 with a conviction and prison sentence of 12-20 years in the State Prison in Redgranite, Wisconsin. Wilfred died, having served 9 years, while still incarcerated on December 2, 2012. The Tribal Wake and Burial Program arranged for his funeral and brought him home to the Reservation in Winnebago Cemetery, Winnebago, Nebraska where his father is also buried.
We will never know what caused his life to spiral uncontrolled at such a high cost to his family, but perhaps this courageous warrior’s experiences in the Central Highlands uncovered traits and flaws that might otherwise have remained dormant. We, as Rangers, each with our own flaws, choose to remember this Ranger for the honor he bestowed upon all of us while we served together. He willingly served when others chose to avoid service. He risked more than any man should ever be asked.