World War II Veteran Known As The “Hero of Cologne” Dies At 99

CBS Sunday Morning

Clarence Smoyer was drafted into the army in 1943. He went to Kentucky to begin training, and then he was assigned to the 3rd Armored Division. He didn’t know at the time that he would end up becoming a war hero.

Just two days before his 21st birthday, he landed in Normandy a few days after D-Day. He was a loader on a Sherman tank. He was injured three times while he was in France including a nose injury that earned him a Purple Heart.

In August 1944, Smoyer was promoted from loader to gunner. He didn’t feel qualified to be a gunner, but he was a natural. By mid-September, the 3rd Armored Division, also called “Spearhead,” reached Germany, but they didn’t cross into Germany until February 1945. At this point, Smoyer was a gunner on one of only 20 “super tanks” in Europe.

Smoyer has gone down in history at the “Hero of Cologne.” When he saw a German tank, he and the gunner on the German tank both fired at a car that raced into the intersection. He couldn’t see the tank because of a building, so he fired at the building, causing it to immobilize the tank. The 3rd Armored Division continued on and encountered another German tank. Smoyer fired three times and set the enemy tank on fire. There happened to be an American combat cameraman at the scene who caught it all on camera.

Smoyer would’ve gotten a Bronze Star, but another incident in Germany got him in trouble with the military. Some German children asked him for bubblegum, but when he said he didn’t have any, they continued to ask him for bubblegum. He asked a woman who was standing nearby to explain to the kids that he didn’t have any bubblegum. Unfortunately, a military policeman pulled up in a jeep right at the moment and reprimanded Smoyer for fraternizing with the Germans.

It wasn’t until September 2019 that Smoyer eventually got his Bronze Star. The ceremony was a complete surprise. He thought he was in Washington D.C. as part of a tour promoting the book “Spearhead.” Watch the ceremony below.

When Smoyer returned home from the war, he married Melba Whitehead. They had three children and remained married until she died in his arms in 2017.

Now, Smoyer has died as well. He was 99 years old.

Smoyer was at his home in Leighton, Pennsylvania, when he died. His funeral is planned for October 6, 2022, at the Leighton Cemetery, and he will be buried with full military honors.