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Lehighton WWII hero awarded Bronze Star in surprise ceremony

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    World War II veteran Clarence Smoyer, 96, a Lehighton native, receives the Bronze Star from U.S. Army Maj. Peter Semanoff at the World War II Memorial on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. Smoyer fought with the U.S. Army’s 3rd Armored Division, nicknamed the Spearhead Division. In 1945, he defeated a German Panther tank near the cathedral in Cologne, Germany. AP PHOTO/ALEX BRANDON

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    World War II veteran Clarence Smoyer, 96, poses for a picture in front of a Sherman tank after receiving the Bronze Star, near the World War II Memorial. AP PHOTO/ALEX BRANDON

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    World War II veteran Clarence Smoyer, 96, sits before receiving the Bronze Star at the World War II Memorial on Wednesday in Washington. Smoyer fought with the U.S. Army’s 3rd Armored Division, nicknamed the Spearhead Division. In 1945, he defeated a German Panther tank near the cathedral in Cologne, Germany — a dramatic duel filmed by an Army cameraman that was seen all over the world. AP PHOTO/ALEX BRANDON

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    World War II veterans Clarence Smoyer, 96, left, Joseph Caserta and Buck Marsh bow their heads during a ceremony to present the Bronze Star to Smoyer at the World War II Memorial on Wednesday in Washington. Smoyer fought with the U.S. Army’s 3rd Armored Division, nicknamed the Spearhead Division. In 1945, he defeated a German Panther tank near the cathedral in Cologne, Germany — a dramatic duel filmed by an Army cameraman that was seen all over the world. AP PHOTO/ALEX BRANDON

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    World War II veteran Buck Marsh, center, talks with two active duty military members before a ceremony to present a Bronze Star to Clarence Smoyer, at the World War II Memorial on Wednesday in Washington. AP PHOTO/ALEX BRANDON

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    World War II veterans Joseph Caserta, left, and Clarence Smoyer, 96, embrace before a ceremony to present the Bronze Star to Smoyer at the World War II Memorial on Wednesday in Washington. Smoyer fought with the U.S. Army’s 3rd Armored Division, nicknamed the Spearhead Division. In 1945, he defeated a German Panther tank near the cathedral in Cologne, Germany — a dramatic duel filmed by an Army cameraman that was seen all over the world. AP PHOTO/ALEX BRANDON

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    World War II veterans Clarence Smoyer, 96, left, and Joseph Caserta smile after Smoyer was presented the Bronze Star at the World War II Memorial on Wednesday in Washington. Smoyer fought with the U.S. Army’s 3rd Armored Division, nicknamed the Spearhead Division. In 1945, he defeated a German Panther tank near the cathedral in Cologne, Germany — a dramatic duel filmed by an Army cameraman that was seen all over the world. AP PHOTO/ALEX BRANDON

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    World War II veteran Clarence Smoyer, 96, left, walks to receives the Bronze Star from U.S. Army Maj. Peter Semanoff, right, at the World War II Memorial on Wednesday in Washington. Smoyer fought with the U.S. Army’s 3rd Armored Division, nicknamed the Spearhead Division. In 1945, he defeated a German Panther tank near the cathedral in Cologne, Germany — a dramatic duel filmed by an Army cameraman that was seen all over the world. AP PHOTO/ALEX BRANDON

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    World War II veterans Clarence Smoyer, 96, left, Joseph Caserta and Buck Marsh salute during a ceremony to present the Bronze Star to Smoyer at the World War II Memorial on Wednesday in Washington. Smoyer fought with the U.S. Army’s 3rd Armored Division, nicknamed the Spearhead Division. In 1945, he defeated a German Panther tank near the cathedral in Cologne, Germany — a dramatic duel filmed by an Army cameraman that was seen all over the world. AP PHOTO/ALEX BRANDON

Published September 19. 2019 08:08PM

 

Nearly 75 years later, a local American war hero finally got what has been long overdue.

Ninety-six-year-old Clarence Smoyer was awarded the Bronze Star on Wednesday in recognition for his heroic achievement in a combat zone.

In a standoff between his Eagle 7 tank and a German Panther tank on a street in Cologne, Germany, in 1945, Smoyer destroyed the tank with three shells, leaving it on fire and incapacitated.

A surprise for Smoyer

Smoyer’s story has been chronicled in a best-selling book titled “Spearhead,” by Adam Makos, who was the master of ceremonies Wednesday at the World War II Memorial where the medal ceremony took place.

Makos began by apologizing to Smoyer for tricking him into coming to Washington, D.C., making him think he was attending a book signing at the Pentagon.

Adding to Smoyer’s surprise was the presence of family members of each of his now deceased crew who were also receiving the medals, other distinguished members of the Army who were present in Cologne on March 6 and Frank Buck from Gettysburg, who brought a full-sized replica of an Eagle 7 to Washington to honor Smoyer and his crew.

Deserving the attention

Makos spoke about the popularity that Smoyer, originally from Lehighton who now lives in Allentown with his daughter, Cindy, is enjoying because of his many book tours, and now more acclaim will come after the medal ceremony.

“Clarence, the gentle giant, who destroyed five German tanks in all, called his crew his family locked in a sardine can,” Makos said. “He would tell himself, ‘Don’t miss, don’t miss’ when he fired at the enemy.” Smoyer’s “family” were Homer Davis from Kentucky; William McVey from Michigan; John DeRiggi from Levittown, Pennsylvania; and Bob Earley from Minnesota.

“He still calls himself the same old guy after 75 years have passed, but with all this recent attention, he’s getting model tanks sent to him by schoolchildren and given boxes of fudge, his favorite candy.

“He doesn’t have to pay for parking tickets, and maybe the best of everything are the kisses he’s getting from plenty of women.”

Recalling the day of heroes

On the sixth day of March in 1945, Smoyer and his crew operated the experimental Eagle 7 equipped with a 90 mm gun.

Makos told the audience that Smoyer volunteered to take charge of eliminating any Nazi resistance that still remained after the war had been declared over.

“Clarence simply said, ‘We belong out front,’ ” said Makos, who then detailed the events of that afternoon.

“Army cameraman Jim Bates, who won a Bronze Star for his film footage of that afternoon, captured the standoff of tanks. They stood muzzle to muzzle, 70 yards apart. Clarence fired first, a direct hit on the Panther engine bay. He fired two more shells until the tank burned.”

Unknown to Smoyer and his men, all the Germans escaped the flaming tank, and 67 years later he would meet the German gunner on a return trip to Cologne.

Why did getting the Star take so long?

The question that needs an answer is why it took nearly 75 years for Clarence Smoyer to receive the Bronze Star.

Makos explained what had happened.

“His tank commander who was killed in action and the cameraman were awarded medals, but not Clarence for his obvious heroism.

“He went for a walk one day and he encountered a group of German children who had begged him for some bubble gum. While he was searching his pocket for the gum he didn’t have, he was seen with the children by the American military police who reported his actions to his commander.

“The Army had a rule that under no circumstances should an American soldier fraternize with German civilians, and that included children.

“His Bronze Star went up in smoke,” Makos said.

He then added, “And now it’s taken two years to process his application to receive this award because there is a very long waiting list.”

A dignitary and two special guests

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania attended the ceremony and added his remarks.

“The account of what happened that day is breathtaking,” he said. “They had to be terrified, but they didn’t waver from their mission. Future generations need to know about Clarence Smoyer and his crew.”

Presenting the medals were Pennsylvanians Maj. Matthew Hoover and Maj. Pete Semanoff, a neighbor who grew up down the street from where Smoyer had lived in Lehighton.

Makos closed the ceremony with both public and personal notes about Smoyer.

“We witnessed history here today. Clarence Smoyer is a humble and quiet man who doesn’t think he’s a hero. He’s just happy to play with his cats, watch his Eagles play on TV, and show off pictures of his wife, Melba, who passed away several years ago.”

What’s next?

There is an incredible side story to this front story that involves Smoyer, the German armored commander and a young woman who was accidentally killed that day when the vehicle she was a passenger in was gunned down in a crossfire between the tanks.

Smoyer’s complete story is going to be adapted for film by Oscar-nominated screenwriters of “The Fighter” and “Patriots Day.”

A well-deserved award for the “Gentle Giant” from Lehighton, a hero from the Greatest Generation of heroes whose bravery helped preserve freedom for all Americans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments
"Long overdue"! And, I'll wager that this man never complained about not receiving this accolade. I'll go one or two better! I'll bet he never even expected it, or gave it a thought! The difference in the generations! Service and Sacrifice with Honor and Humility!
Now it's "I Served"! What do I get?, I'm more qualified! I'm smarter than you! I'm a better American! Etc. Veterans Operation This, That and The Other Thing,since 2001, are spoiled, narcissistic and rude. They use their military service like a Free Pass to say, do and complain about anything they please. Treating people who disagree them like they are enemy combatants.
And, when called out on their rudeness and arrogance, you get, "I Served"!
They pose in their uniforms to implying they are qualified to hold a political office! The Uniform! Talk about conduct unbecoming and an abuse of military stature.
Thank you Mr. Smoyer! Not only for your Service, but for the Quiet Dignity with which you and all Men and Women of your generation have served us. You are a Veteran to be admired and emulated.
Such drivel from the mouth of a fool. All veterans should be proud of their service to this great country we live in and we should always be proud of, and thankful for them, too. You sir, are a clown.
He we go... another trumphump who has a big pair the on the internet just like his president. Big pair of cyberballs, nothing in the ral world. Your are ignorant for picking fight on this particular thread. You cheapen the tribute to this man and You have no class. You're the perfect example of the obnoxious punks of whom I speak.

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