WASHINGTON — When 96-year-old Clarence Smoyer came to Washington Wednesday, he thought he was heading to the Pentagon to sign copies of “Spearhead,” a recent book detailing his exploits as a World War II tank gunner.
Instead, he found a full Army color guard and ceremony awarding him a Bronze Star, almost 75 years after the battle that made him a hero.
WWII tank gunner, now 95, pays tribute to the highest-ranking American killed in the European theater
On March 30, exactly 74 years to the day since Gen. Maurice Rose was gunned down by a German tank commander, Clarence Smoyer rumbled down Wynkoop Street in Denver's lower downtown perched in the turret of a vintage M3 Stuart tank.
Smoyer, of Allentown, Pennsylvania, was part of a famous March 6, 1945, duel in Cologne, Germany, where his Pershing tank destroyed a German Panther tank. The battle was captured on film and Smoyer became known as the “Hero of Cologne.”
Smoyer was told he would receive the Bronze Star, but a few days later he ran afoul of a minor disciplinary issue that cost him his medal. A military police officer saw him searching his pockets for bubble gum to give to a crowd of German children and charged him with fraternization with the enemy. Meanwhile, Smoyer’s tank commander and the military cameraman who filmed the battle received Bronze Stars of their own.
Smoyer’s story was detailed in “Spearhead” by author Adam Makos , and it was Makos who helped engineer Wednesday’s events. He helped convince the Army to reverse what he saw as an injustice. And he brought Smoyer to Washington on the pretense of a book-signing at the Pentagon.
As he stepped out of the car and saw the crowds gathered at Washington’s World War II Memorial, Smoyer smiled broadly and asked, “Am I getting a Bronze Star?”
The ceremony featured an actual Sherman tank, several of Smoyer’s old World War II comrades and a speech by Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey.