WWII vet Clarence Smoyer talks in Lehighton, receives his high school diploma
World War II veterans Earl Bridygham, left, and Clarence Smoyer speak about the tank duel in Germany during the presentation at Lehighton Area High School on Wednesday. HUNTRE KEIP/TIMES NEWS
Ronald Rabenold, Lehighton schoolteacher, left, and Clarence Smoyer, veteran. HUNTRE KEIP/TIMES NEWS
Veterans Earl Bridygham and Clarence Smoyer talk.
The line waiting to meet Clarence Smoyer.
An hour before Clarence Smoyer was scheduled to speak to the community, the room was full of mumbles wondering what questions would be asked to the veteran, but when he spoke to the crowd, everyone became part of a conversation.
World War II veteran and Lehighton native Clarence Smoyer held a book signing and meet and greet at the Lehighton Elementary Center on Wednesday. The event was based on Smoyer’s military career told by Adam Makos in the book “Spearhead.”
The line to meet Smoyer grew longer, but his smile never faded, and every handshake seemed to get stronger.
“I’m an old rock star now,” Smoyer said.
Some people admitted that they knew nothing about the 95-year-old, while others seemed to have known everything about him, but everyone shared one thing in common — they all felt his courage.
According to Makos, Smoyer was assigned to the 3rd Armored Division, one of America’s two heavy armored divisions, later known as “The Spearhead Division.” Smoyer served as a loader and gunner on a Sherman tank. One of his most notable moments in his military career was during the battle for Cologne, Germany. He fought a duel with a German Panther tank at the city’s cathedral.
This key moment of Smoyer’s life was a talking point during the night’s conversation. In fact, his explanation created a new brotherhood — years in the making.
Earl Bridygham served in U.S. Army under the 13th Infantry Regime and 8th Infantry Division during the same time as Smoyer.
At the time of the tank duel between the American and German forces, Bridygham was driving a communications Jeep with fellow soldiers. An officer came up to the vehicle and told them to not drive any further, or they would be killed.
Bridygham said the men in charge of the American tank saved his life, but never knew who they were.
Three months after the battle in Germany, Bridygham learned Smoyer’s name in the “Stars and Stripes” newspaper, but never had the opportunity to speak to him until Wednesday evening.
“I never got a chance to meet you, but I’d like to meet you now,” Bridygham said.
The meet and greet became more than anyone expected. The men shook hands and held a conversation about past wartimes as if no one else was in the room with them.
Bridygham remained on stage with Smoyer for the rest of the event. The sense of togetherness and camaraderie brought together in 20 minutes seemed to have lasted a lifetime for the pair.
Despite his impressive military career, Smoyer left school in the 10th grade to support his family, so he never obtained a diploma.
Wayne Wentz, vice president of Lehighton Area School Board and a Vietnam veteran, presented Smoyer with his high school diploma.
Mayor Clark Ritter also awarded Smoyer as one of Lehighton’s Hometown Heroes.
Smoyer’s book tour continues as he will travel to Reading for the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s World War II weekend. He will continue to share his story for as long as he can.