This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories, and we tell stories about everything here on this show. From the arts to sports, and from business to history, and everything in between, including your stories, send them to OurAmericanStories.com.
They're some of our favorites. And today we're sitting down with Adam Makos, author of great military history books such as A Higher Call, Devotion, and his latest book, and what we're talking about now, Spearhead. Adam, I'm interested in how you got interested in World War II and who Clarence Smoyer was. My grandfather's got me interested, Lee.
I was a kid and they used to take me to air shows and museums. They'd both fought in World War II and they didn't see combat. And so for them, World War II was fascinating. They were fascinated by the heroes who had won the war by the time they got into it. So they were able to talk about it.
They were able to show me and my brother their photo albums. And they lit the spark in us that we thought World War II was cool and we thought the men who fought it were the best Americans. And what we did to show our appreciation, we started a little homemade newsletter. And it eventually became a little magazine called Valor Magazine. And we would interview veterans, first our grandfathers, next the guy next door, and then guys in our city.
And before you know it, we were kids in high school and then later in college publishing a magazine to honor people who were four times our age. In this case, a friend in college had told me about this local hero in his hometown. The guy was living in Allentown. And my buddy said, listen, there's a hero there from World War II who had fought as a tank gunner.
He was one of our most decorated gunners. And he's living there in a row house in Allentown. Nobody knows he's there, not his family. They don't know what he did in the war. His neighbors don't.
I didn't know much about armored warfare. But I knew there was something special about this guy because he had supposedly fought this duel in World War II that was said to be the most famous tank duel of the war. So one day I just went knocking and Clarence Schmoyer opened the door and invited me into his kitchen table. His family grew up in deep poverty. His father was away working for the CCC. His mother was a housekeeper.
They live in a house so you might say dilapidated, you could hear the neighbors on the other side of the wall. So he grew up poor. And Clarence, when he would come home from high school, whereas other kids would go to football practice or they would go hang out at the movie theater, Clarence came home and one of his classmates, her father was in the candy business. So he went to that man and he said, I'd like to sell candy. And so Clarence would take a box of chocolate bars, Hershey's and all those. And just like a ballpark vendor, he would go door to door at night.
Again, he's a 14 year old kid selling candy bars to try to help his family. And that's where he developed that protective nature. And he also developed a little bit of a self selfish nature in one sense in that he believed that no one was going to help him. No one was going to look out for him.
And he had to take care of his family because no one's going to help us. Clarence Moyer was a member of this spearhead division. Now he was a 21 year old gunner at the time.
He's a tall lanky kid with blonde hair, quiet. I always said he was a gentle giant and I was always amazed that he was a great tank gunner. But one of the reasons he lived in obscurity was partially because he chose that and partially because he was in an obscure unit. The spearhead division during World War II is very little known. It's called the Third Armored Division. And a lot of people confuse it with Patton's Third Army.
Third Army is a big unit. The war reporters are tagging along and they're sending back the dispatches. Patton is charging out of France. Patton is doing this.
Patton slapped the guy. You know, the whole unit is being tracked. Third Armored Division was a unit known for breaking through the enemy lines and then running in radio silence, just like a submarine behind the lines, sowing chaos.
And so the reporters weren't sending back dispatches. This unit was just creating mayhem. It lost the most tanks of World War II of any American unit. It lost more men killed in action than the 101st Airborne or the 82nd Airborne and nobody knows its name. Talk about tanks before we go anywhere else. Who are these men? Is it a volunteer mission to be inside these tanks like it is for subs?
How does it all work? You know, in the early days it was, but then after a while they started putting guys in it, whether they liked it or not, especially in the late war, you almost had to be forced into a tank. The thing is the Sherman tank is such a beautiful machine.
We always think it's invincible, but you're right. It's like a submarine that can't hide. And in the early war, our Shermans were a fine tank. When they went into the African campaign, the British were using them before us and they reported great results.
You've got five men in that machine, a gunner, a loader, a bow gunner, a commander, and a driver. So it's, it's a tightly packed unit, a band of brothers in an American tank. The trouble was by 1944, 45, we took those same Sherman tanks that had been fighting in Africa and we sent them into Normandy. And there they encountered this German tank called the Panther. And this thing had a bigger gun and it had massive armor.
And by 1944, 45, there was almost a rule. You need seven or eight Shermans to tackle one Panther or Tiger tank of the enemy. Well, Clarence was at first a loader in the tank and he loved it because he didn't want to hurt anybody.
He wanted to get through World War II without taking a life, never even liked to hunt rabbits as a kid because he'd have to kill them. And so he was happy to just shovel the shells into the gun and let somebody else pull the trigger. Now, when the unit was training up on the English sea coast, they said, now what happens if our gunners get knocked out? The loaders need to know how to shoot. So Clarence and the other loaders were all put in the gunner's seat.
They were given a competition. You have to shoot at a target a thousand yards away up on the coastal bluffs and we're going to see who's the best loader turned gunner. Clarence nailed this thing eight times and his crew received a big magnum of scotch as a reward. And they all drank that night and they said, someday you are going to be our gunner because like it or not, you have a talent. And so after the heavy losses in France, when they were charging through Belgium again, gunning for the German border, Clarence was put in the gunner's seat. And this reluctant warrior is suddenly given the most responsibility on the tank because if you miss, that means your enemy gets to hit you. And statistically when a Sherman tank was hit, one man was going to come out dead. Another was going to come out wounded. So Clarence, the reason he was such a great gunner wasn't because he hated the enemy. It was because he loved the men inside that tank, his family, he called them.
And he knew if he missed one of them were going to come out dead, another wounded. And then you're listening to Adam Makos and he's talking about the life of Clarence Moyer, which is captured in his book Spearhead. And when we come back, we'll learn more about this tanker gunner and his fellow soldiers lives in that tank and so much more here on Our American stories. Folks, if you love the great American stories we tell and love America like we do, we're asking you to become a part of the Our American stories family. If you agree that America is a good and great country, please make a donation.
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And we return to our American stories and Adam Makos, author of the New York Times bestseller Spearhead. Adam, tell me how old Clarence was when he was sent to the European theater of World War Two and what his first taste of combat was like. He was 20 when he went on that ship over to England.
He came in about three weeks after D-Day, entered the hedgerow fighting, led the breakthrough out of France. It was a harrowing job. I mean, when we talk about selflessness, every time his commander would come back from the briefing, he had a pipe and the pipe in his mouth would be bouncing up and down because his teeth were chattering so badly.
Every time these guys got in these tanks to go charge forward toward the Germans, they were terrified. But guys like Clarence, they embrace that. Well, there's that biblical verse which says, who will go forth for us? And then the answer is send me. Clarence embodied that it was that idea that, well, somebody has to.
So send me. Somebody has to protect the guys behind us in the column. Somebody has to go first. Leading the way, being the first tank over the hill, the first tank around the bend when leading is oftentimes a death sentence.
For Clarence, his first taste of responsibility was at Mons, Belgium. We had broken out of France and we found out there's this German army running back to Germany. So the spearhead division was given orders. Turn on a dime, go north and lay an ambush for them.
So they did. And they beat the German army there. And you've got a hundred thousand or more Germans coming toward you. And we parked our tanks around the various roadblocks. Clarence's tank that night was coiled up. They would park five tanks in a fan and a German tank that night blundered into their position in the dark and it parked right next to him. He's in the gunner's seat. He's got a German tank idling next to him in the dark. And his commander, a young man named Paul Faircloth, came up.
They were all trying to catch some shut eye. And Paul said, OK, we've got to shoot. And Clarence threw this fit because he didn't want to shoot in the dark when this enemy tank, even though he could hear it, even though he could almost touch it, he knew if he missed, he was going to hit the tank on the other side of him. And the tank on the other side of that German was American. And so the German tank shuts down its engine and we have to wait till daylight now. So Clarence is in that sardine can for hours and hours and the hours are ticking by.
And it's just this nerve wracking thing where you have the enemy tank next to you and it probably knows you're there and it's probably waiting to shoot you, too. And then when daylight comes, he finally has the courage to pull that trigger and he kills the first tank of World War Two that he would kill. But the amazing thing was he was afraid to look inside.
All the guys in the tank said, we've got to look inside and see, did the German crew get out in the night or did we just kill them all? And Clarence wouldn't do it. He refused to get out. He refused to ever look inside the hatch. Instead, his commander went and did it for him.
Paul looked inside and he shut the hatch. And he never told Clarence what he saw in there. But Clarence was so reluctant, so fearful that it wouldn't be for many months that he found the courage to even own up to what his job was. And let's talk about the key moments in his development as a warrior.
Talk about a few of them. Tell a few stories about Clarence's progression to this leader and this this fighter. So Clarence's commander, Paul, who we were talking about the next day, they're getting shelled and Paul is going out of his tank to help some wounded men. And Paul got blasted by a mortar, his leg torn off, and he died right in front of Clarence's eyes, thrown up on a bank in Belgium.
So Clarence watches his friend die. The American army grinds its way into Germany through the West Wall. They have to blast their way through these pillboxes and they first meet these Germans who refuse to surrender. So the Sherman tanks had to literally go around it and shoot in through the back door. So he had to see that he had to battle his way through the West Wall.
So he was in this downward spiral. And then they get called into the Battle of the Bulge. That's where they really came toe to toe with the German Panther tanks because Hitler threw everything he had left into this battle. And Clarence gets to watch as the American tanks in many cases have to hide from the enemy because we just couldn't handle them. So there are times where he's hiding in the night and a German column of tanks is driving just outside, just beyond him in the forest and he has to hold his fire.
So he goes through this crucible of things that would break a lot of people today. And coming out of the Battle of the Bulge, the army realized they had to change something. And that change was the Pershing. It was the super tank that was supposed to end the Third Reich.
Clarence is given one of the 20 Pershings that come to the European theater and it's untested. He pulls it up to a hill overlooking a German valley, the Rhineland, and it's flooded down there and all the houses are abandoned. And half the Third Armored Division gathers around him, including his general, General Maurice Rose, who was actually the highest ranking Jewish American in the European theater. General Rose is a two-star and he's standing next to Clarence's tank and he's going to watch a firing demonstration. So Clarence climbs in and he's nervous as can be and he sets his sights on the chimneys of these houses, a thousand, two thousand yards away. And he blasts the easiest one and the chimney explodes. And his crew started laughing because outside of the tank, nobody had seen this Pershing's 90 millimeter gunfire before.
And it had such a blast that came out of the sides as well as the front that a bold General Rose over into the mud in his entourage and they all are getting up and they're soaking wet, but they watched that chimney explode and they're happy. The men are cheering because these were guys who used to say, give us a Panther and we'll take on the enemy. They used to say, our tanks are only good for driving around the countryside. We want tanks to fight with, not look good in parades.
So this is a unit that has been depressed. They were actually taking their Sherman tanks and they were up armoring them just like our Humvees in Iraq. They were taking armor off of German tanks that have been knocked out and welding it to the front of our Sherman's. They had been taking sandbags and putting them on the Sherman's. They had been taking concrete and making concrete armor on the Sherman's.
That's how terrified they were. Suddenly they're watching this Pershing tank. The only thing that can go toe to toe with the German tank and they know there's hope. And the third armored division set its sights on a city called Cologne. And the significance of Cologne was that we had to get a bridge across the Rhine. We had to get into the heart of Germany and end this thing. And the Rhine was like this natural barrier. So the third armored division sets out fighting through the little Rhineland towns, approaching Germany's third largest city. And Cologne was known as the fortress city because Hitler had ordered it defended to the last. And we knew we had to conquer this block by block and it was going to be the biggest urban battle of the European war. This is where Clarence really stepped up because he's got the Pershing and he's put in the front.
That was the downside to the new tank. It meant that you are going to lead every attack. And he assumed that responsibility. When they lined up at the gates of the city, his commander said, gentlemen, I give you Cologne.
Let's knock the hell out of it. And he comes into Cologne and he's leading them block by block. The armored infantry is moving up alongside of them. The danger in Cologne was you had to watch out for not just your left, not just your right. You had to watch out above and below because you have German soldiers on the rooftops with Molotov cocktails. You had German 88 no meter guns, cannons dug into the basement level, enemy soldiers using the basements as tunnels so they would knock down the walls and they could move an entire block unseen. You also had that fear of a German soldier with a Panzerfaust, which glorified Bazooka who could just step out of any doorway and put that thing right through your tank. And then on top of it, the biggest fear and the most uncommon thing for urban warfare, German tanks, they were spotted in the city. There were several of them that had crossed the bridge to make a last stand and you could turn any corner. And that's what Clarence worried about. You could turn any corner, you come to any intersection and you could drive right into the crosshairs of a German tank.
And he did. And you're listening to Adam Makos telling the story of Clarence Moyer. And by the way, to give you a context for this battle, because you've heard the words battle of the bulge before, but just to get an idea, 705,000 soldiers. This is just on our side, 2,400 tanks, 1,900 tank destroyers, 7,700 other armored vehicles. And my goodness, the amount of troops, it's staggering. We lost 19,000 in this one battle, 89,500 casualties. The price we paid and my goodness, the price the German people paid for this was staggering too. Who shall I send and who will go for us?
Here I am, send me. That's from Isaiah and Clarence Moyer. Well, he answered that call.
He lived that verse. When we come back, more of Adam Makos telling the story of Clarence Moyer here on Our American Stories. And we continue with Our American Stories and to the story of Clarence Moyer as told by Adam Makos. By the way, buy his fantastic book, Spearhead. Go to Amazon or go wherever you can and read it.
You won't put it down and you won't regret it. When we last left off, Clarence was about to be sent into battle at Cologne, Germany. Adam, what happened in Cologne and who was Gustav Schaefer? First time he met Gustav Schaefer was through the gun sight. Clarence had pulled up to an intersection, a massive four-way and he's scanning across the way and Gustav Schaefer's Panzer IV tank nosed into the opposite street and it saw Clarence's tank and it backed up really quickly. So before Clarence could even put his gun on it, it backed up. Gustav was one of three German tanks sent over the morning of this battle and they were sent on a suicide mission, three tanks against an American army.
I mean, it was nonsense, but Gustav never had a choice in this. He was a simple farm kid from Northern Germany, grew up on the windswept fields. His family used to harvest their crops sun up till sundown. Sometimes they worked by the light of the moon. He had no radio, no electricity. His hobby was to go and pedal his bicycle to the nearby railroad tracks to watch trains go by on the Hamburg to Bremen line. He wanted to be a locomotive conductor, but Gustav, he saw a human even in his enemy and 17 years old when he's drafted, they took one look at this little German. He was barely five foot, blonde hair. And they said, you're going into the Panzers.
You're the perfect size for them. There was no saying no. There was no, there was, there was no saying, I don't think so. I think I'll abstain from this time.
I object to this war. He knew nothing about this Hitler guy. The only Jewish person Gustav knew growing up was a neighboring farmer and his neighboring farmer had once landed his family, a cow to help them through a tough time and never asked for anything in return. So that was his worldview of the Jewish people. They're generous.
They helped my family. Why are they Hitler's enemy? Well, these two guys are trading machine gun fire. Now searching for one another, trying to see a ricochets, trying to see the tracers hit something. And Clarence is getting frustrated because he's unable to hit Gustav's tank. So he does something really clever. He loads up an armor piercing round. He starts shooting through the building where Gustav's tank is hiding, shoots one shot too. And he's seeing bricks, the building, which has been damaged by air raids because the whole city had been hit by 200 plus air raids.
The whole city was rubble largely. And this building starts to cave in and Clarence shoots it again and again. And he eventually brings down the building on the Gustav's tank and knocks Gustav's turret out of whack. And Gustav eventually has to get out of that tank and he decides I've had enough of fighting for Germany and he runs away and hides. And then this one moment of what you might say is free thinking, deciding I'm done with this.
I'm done risking my life for the Third Reich. So he runs away and he's later survives thanks to what Clarence did. Clarence fights a second tank though. What happened was he was held up battling Gustav. So the army sent two Sherman tanks forward toward Cologne's cathedral, massive Gothic cathedral built over 600 years.
It's one of the wonders of the world. And it was still standing. It was blackened and it was battered, but it was still there. And behind the cathedral was the Rhine river. Now the Germans had blown the bridge over the Rhine. So we knew we weren't getting across today, but we still had to win the battle.
And we knew once we reached the cathedral, you've reached the Rhine, Cologne is ours. And these two Shermans are about to seize victory when suddenly the right one gets hit and the left one gets hit by an unseen German tank. There was a Panther tank hiding in a tunnel and it ambushed both of them. You see the commander of one of these tanks, Karl Kellner comes out. He's a young man from Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
He's got glasses. He had just gotten a battlefield commission a few weeks earlier. He had a fiance waiting for him back home and he rolls over the turret with his leg missing and he bleeds to death right in front of their eyes. So in the last hour of the battle, there's a tank out there still killing Americans. And Clarence's crew is given the call.
They hear the call come out on the radio. Can anybody deal with this Panther tank? Cause it pulled up in a parked in front of the cathedral. The ultimate metaphor, really.
You have this place of, of, of faith and worship. And then you have this enemy who was parked in front of it saying, we're going to keep you from this and we're going to fight to the last round. They were fanatics. A lot of Germans soldiers were now swimming the Rhine. They were surrendering in droves and these guys decided to fight to the end. And Clarence's crew came up in their Pershing and they fought this incredible duel with this German Panther. Clarence's Pershing starts coming up a parallel street ready to breach the intersection and come face to face with this Panther. The Panther's gun turns and is facing the empty intersection where Clarence's tank is coming.
The German commander inside that Panther had gotten restless. He saw no more Americans coming where he knocked out those Sherman. So he said, they're going to come at me from another direction. And so he aimed at this empty intersection.
Clarence had a plan, which was when we get there, we're going to go into the intersection. We're going to shoot him once and we're going to back up because he had been schooled in the idea that it takes more than one hit to kill a German tank. But when his tank pulled into that intersection, the driver saw the Panther and he saw that he was looking down that black muzzle of this German gun that could snuff his life. And the driver panicked. He floored the throttle and he threw the Pershing out into the middle of the intersection. So now you have two tanks broadside, both with their guns facing each other.
It's like two battleships. Clarence was quicker on the trigger than even the German gunner who was waiting for him. So he fired and he didn't aim. He just fired anywhere he could into this German tank. And he shook the tank and he rattled it.
And the concussion shook the men inside and it started to smoke. And one German crewman decided to leave and then a second decided and they start pouring out of the hatches. And that German gunner did not squeeze his trigger.
So Clarence now knows he has another problem. There's five men in that German tank and any one of them can reach over, pull the trigger and the Pershing is going to go up in flames. So he shoots it a second time and he moves his fire forward and he fires it through the crew compartment. And then he calls for a reload and fires a third time. And they radioed back any further and will be swimming.
Cologne is secured. They had literally stared death in the face. And the other tankers were so thankful that they had gone and done this and knocked out this Panther because other men had been sent in lesser tanks and they were told you're going to have to go after the Panther next if this Pershing fails.
So these guys would come up and they'd bring them bottles of champagne that they had just looted. One crew came up and they said, you saved our lives. And Clarence said, well, I really saved my life and yours was just along for the ride.
He was kind of self-effacing like that, but he became a 21 year old corporal from coal country, Pennsylvania, who conquered a German city like Napoleon. And next thing you know, it's in the newsreels around the country. And Clarence's family was called to the movie theater because they would always play the newsreel right before the main picture. And sure enough, his mother and father, for the first time in their lives, they were so poor.
They'd never been to the movies before. They sat in the theater and they saw the desperate fighting in Cologne and they heard the newscaster. And then they saw their son come up out of the turret and they said, my God, he's alive. After vanquishing the Panther, Clarence was hailed as the hero of Cologne and nominated for the bronze star. Tell us how he lost that award. Bob early who commanded the tank at that time, he got the bronze star. Two days later, Clarence was wandering the streets and there was a bunch of German kids there.
There were still 40,000 people living in the city, 40,000 civilians. And these German kids saw an American coming and the fear had been gone by then. And these kids came up to Clarence's gentle giant and they started begging for bubble gum. And Clarence was standing there and their mother was sitting on the steps of their ruined house. And he saw these three or four kids and he gets down and he says, guys, I don't have any gum.
I don't have any gum. And finally he's shooing them over to their mother. He's got his hand on their back and he's pushing them to their mother when the MPs come around the corner in their Jeep. And they pull up the Jeep and they say, we got you.
You're fraternizing with a young woman and three or four kids. You're talking to the enemy. A couple of days later, Clarence's commanding officer comes in and he says, I was so proud of how you knocked out that Panther tank and now you go and do this. And it was absolute utter nonsense.
It was that sort of elitism that you see sometimes. And Clarence lost a Bronze Star that day all over a stick of gum. And you're listening to Adam Makos and he's telling the story of Clarence Smoyer. The book is Spearhead. Go to Amazon.com and get it.
You won't regret it. More of this great story, this great World War II story, here on Our American Stories. And we continue with Our American Stories and the story of Clarence Smoyer as told by Adam Makos in his wonderful book, Spearhead.
When we last left off, Clarence had won the Battle of Cologne and received and lost his Bronze Star. Adam, I'm interested in what happens next, the battle at what was called the Nazi Fort Knox. Well, the Third Armored Division again had been leading the way since France.
Eisenhower and the brass are trying to figure out how do we end the war? What's the heart of Germany? Is it Berlin where Hitler's hiding out? Or is it the Ruhr Valley where Germany's producing all their munitions and their coal and their steel?
And they decided to leave the symbolic victory to the Russians. Let them take Berlin. We're going to take the Ruhr. They said, we're going to encircle the Ruhr pocket.
Hell on Wheels is going to come around from the north. We're going to come up from the south and we're going to pincer them and we're going to seal the Ruhr and we're going to end the war. To do so, though, the Third Armored Division had to make an epic drive. They went 100 miles in 24 hours behind enemy lines. We're saying through German villages, through German autobahns, the German soldiers on the side of the road would just look up and drop their rifles because they'd see this American armored column just racing at full speed right past them.
It was awe-inspiring. So after running radio silent for 24 hours, the Spearhead Division reaches a city called Paderborn. Paderborn was the gateway to the Ruhr. It was a city that all the communication and rails, rail lines flowed through to reach the Ruhr.
So we had to take this place. The downside was it was the home of the German armor schools. It was the Nazi Fort Knox, as they called it. The SS trained their tankers there. The Wehrmacht trained their tankers.
They tested their new tanks and those men would be coming out to fight. And in a sad twist of fate, General Rose, who was leading Clarence's division there, he was always out in front, like Patton, and he got ambushed. The night before the big battle for the Nazi Fort Knox, a bunch of German tanks had hidden in a field and they ambushed his column and they wiped out this American column. And when General Rose tried to surrender to one of the German tankers, when he tried to lower the pistol belt from his hips, the German in the tank who was holding a Schmeiser machine gun thought Rose was going for his gun and he pumped him full of 30 bullets.
The entire magazine into General Rose. So General Rose became the highest ranking Jewish American killed in Europe, highest ranking officer. And this is on the eve of the battle for the Nazi Fort Knox. This takes place on April 1st, 1945. It was Easter morning and it was almost a scene right out of, I think of like Braveheart where William Wallace is about to rally his troops for that first battle. And he gives that speech about freedom.
And in this case, this was real. The tanks lined up on this hillside overlooking Paderborn and the sun is rising behind them. And a chaplain is going from tank to tank, giving a blessing. And the men are taking off their hats. They're coming out of the turrets.
Some are coming down to the ground and kneeling in the soggy ground. And he blesses each of the tanks down the row. And that's where Clarence looks at all these guys. And that's where he kind of came to that final epiphany.
And that is they're all my family. And he's going to lead with the biggest gun, with the biggest tank. And he knows he's going to be the biggest target. And so they charge across this field into the teeth of the German tanks who are guarding what was called the Paderborn rail yard. And it's this amazing battle where Germans were hiding in the shell holes. And these are SS men. These are a lot of the most fanatical Germans.
They were the only ones who'd still be fighting at this point. And Clarence is getting fire from the rail yard itself. The German tanks are picking them off as they're charging across the field. Clarence's unit started with 15 tanks. Guess how many got in there?
Three. Three reached the Paderborn rail yard. And Clarence's tank is there. And amazingly, they get hit. First time in the war, Clarence gets hit.
He gets hit on the muzzle of his gun. And at first, the smoke came into the tank. And the crew thought their tank was on fire.
So we actually see Clarence's crew in the pitched battle, the last battle, abandoned tank. And they go hide in a ditch. And the bullets are cutting over their head.
The SS are swarming the rail yard. There's German tanks moving around them. And Clarence is now hiding in a ditch. And the other two Sherman tanks that are with them, one gets hit.
It's chaos. There's now one Sherman tank trying to hold its own against all of these enemies converging on them. And that's when Clarence had this bright idea. He looked at the muzzle of the Pershing and he said, it hit us, but I think it hit the muzzle casing. It didn't hit the gun tube itself.
And they knew this was going to be a gamble. He said, we can get back in that. We can still fire this gun. The downside was if he was wrong, if there was an obstruction, you fired that gun through a broken barrel. That back blast is coming into the turret and you are dead. And so they ran back into that tank while the enemy is shooting at them. Some of Clarence's crew had to go under the tank and in through the escape hatch.
The bullets were so many. They get in the tank and Clarence decides, all right, we're going to keep fighting. And then he gets a tap on the shoulder. His commander, Bob Burley says tank, and he taps him on the right shoulder and he says five o'clock, five o'clock that's behind you. That's over your right shoulder. A German tank had snuck behind them no more than seconds after they got back in the tank and Clarence turns the gun.
There's one problem. He's got a round load in the gun. That's not made for taking out tanks. It's a high explosive round. It's meant for fighting all those troops that are swarming them. It's going to bounce right off of that tank. And worse, it's a Panther and he can just feel his commander now gripping his shoulder.
Clarence does something amazing. And again, I always say he's our best gunner of World War II. He swings that gun over and he knows the time it takes to take that shell out and change it for an armor piercing is going to get them killed. So when his gun is turning toward the Panther, right when it appears in front of the Panther, he shoots that armor piercing or that high explosive shell into the soil and the soil throws up this massive cloud in front of the Panther.
It blinds the enemy gunner. Clarence calls for a reload. His loader slams and armor piercing shell in, locks the breach. Clarence fires right through the Panther through its thickest armor and the armor piercing shell goes in and knocks out the enemy tank. The Germans assaulting the railyard all see this and the Germans lose heart and run away. And the battle is saved. The rest of the American forces make it into the railyard. They take Paderborn.
They take the Nazi Fort Knox. And that day, Clarence, for the first time, he looked inside the tank that he had destroyed. And for the first time, he owned up to the fact that he was an American tank gunner. Talk about coming home.
What was that like? Talk about his life after the war. Clarence came home and he had planned on relaxing a little bit, but then one of his buddies said, hey, all the boys are coming back.
You're never going to find a job if you don't grab one now. So five days later, after he's home, he goes and gets a job. Within a year, he marries and he locks away all of the, never saw his own newsreel film. Decades pass.
It's finally the 90s. And somebody finds that film and they send it to him on a VHS. And he's living in a mobile home park up in Palmerton, Pennsylvania. And one quiet afternoon, he puts that VHS in and he watches himself. And suddenly all the bad memories from World War II, for some reason, it triggered the bad memories. He goes through the years just kind of suffering through trauma.
Finally, 2013 arrives and he's been urged to talk about it. Everybody says, talk about your story. Go to the VA, talk to the veterans there. And he goes to the VA and he realizes these kids are all from Iraq.
They're all from Afghanistan. They don't want to hear from an old man of World War II with white hair. So he finally comes to a conclusion. There's only one person I can talk to. One person who really know what I went through because his whole tank crew was dead by then.
They had all passed. There's only one man left he could talk to. And that was the German he'd fought against. And so they tracked down Gustav Schaefer and they found out he was still living and Gustav was willing to meet.
March 2013, he steps in front of the Cologne Cathedral, looking around, seeing every crowd passing by, looking for his enemy. And Gustav Schaefer appeared. And the two men approached, both very hesitant because neither knew how the other would accept him. And then finally they stuck out their hands and they started shaking.
They didn't stop shaking. They wrapped their arms around each other and they started hugging. And Clarence leaned over to Gustav and he said, the war is over.
We can be friends now. And Gustav said, Ja, ja, gut. And they went back to the hotel.
Gustav remembered some English from his days as a POW. And I got to watch these guys sit on a couch at the Hilton Cologne, each with a Kolsch beer in hand. And they started swapping stories. They started talking about the action they had seen, the battle they had fought. And they even told jokes. Clarence said, our tank had a refrigerator in it.
Did yours? And Gustav said, Ja, ja, only in winter time. These guys hit it off. And the next day they went to the place where they had fought. They stood on the same street. And Gustav said, this is where I was parked. This is where I was when I was shooting at you. Clarence said, this is where I was. And Gustav said, you know, I'm kind of thankful you shot that building over on us.
Otherwise, one of us would have died that day. And they walked away as friends. They would exchange Christmas cards. They were pen pals. They even talked on Skype. If you can imagine that two men in their 90s sitting down 5,000 miles apart, Clarence on a laptop, Gustav on his desktop. And they talked face to face.
How was your day? It's good to see you again. What is new? And you've been listening to Adam Makos telling the story of Clarence Smoyer. And my goodness, there's just so much there. And in front of that same cathedral where they had met so many decades before, they embraced and became friends. A beautiful, beautiful story. Clarence Smoyer's story. In a way, Gustav Schaeffer's story, too. Here on Our American Stories.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-17 16:06:38 / 2023-02-17 16:22:33 / 16