In 1943, Clarence Smoyer was drafted into the army and sent to Kentucky for training. He had no idea that he would go on to become a war hero as part of the 3rd Armored Division.
A few days after D-Day, he arrived in Normandy two days before turning 21. Working as a loader on a Sherman tank, he was injured three times while fighting in France. One of his injuries – a nose injury – resulted in him being awarded the Purple Heart.
Although Smoyer didn’t feel confident in his ability, he was promoted to gunner in August 1944. It turns out, he had a knack for it. “Spearhead” reached Germany by mid-September, but they didn’t cross the border into until February of the following year. At this point, Smoyer was a gunner on one of only 20 “super tanks” left in Europe.
Smoyer is celebrated as the “Hero of Cologne.” When he noticed a German tank, he and the gunner on the German tank both opened fire at a car that skidded into the intersection. Without being able to see the tank because of a building, he shot at the building instead, causing it to damage and stopping the tank. The 3rd Armored Division then ran into another German tank. Smoyer set the enemy tank ablaze with three well-placed shots, and an American combat cameraman was there to document the entire event.
We are sad to announce the passing of Mr. Clarence Smoyer. Mr. Smoyer was a gunner in the 3rd Armored Division during World War II and was on one of the first T26E3 (later M26) Pershing tanks when he engaged a German Panther tank in the center of the city of Cologne in March '45. pic.twitter.com/3SeWbeu7eu
— U.S. Army Armor & Cavalry Collection (@ArmorCollection) October 1, 2022
If it weren’t for another incident in Germany, Smoyer would have received a Bronze Star. German children repeatedly asked him for bubble gum, but he didn’t have any to give them. He asked a woman nearby to explain to his kids that he didn’t have any bubblegum. A military policeman drove up to Smoyer and scolded him for talking with the Germans, unfortunately.
I’m back to remembering Clarence Smoyer again. I was honored to present him with a patched out Tanker jacket that he wore while on the book tour. Clarence and the jacket even made it to the Oval Office! #Armor #Tanker #Spearhead pic.twitter.com/J9yWERBIKr
— Paul Souza (@Masstnkr) October 2, 2022
Smoyer didn’t receive his Bronze Star until September 2019, although the ceremony itself took him by surprise. He believed he was in Washington D.C. as a part of an event to advertise his book, “Spearhead.” If you’re curious, watch the ceremony that’s linked below.
After Smoyer returned home from fighting overseas, he married Melba Whitehead. They had three kids and stayed together until she died in his arms in 2017.
Sadly, Smoyer has passed away. He was 99 years old.