FORT LESLEY J. MCNAIR, WASHINGTON, D.C. -- After nearly 75 years, former U.S. Army Corporal and WWII Veteran, Clarence Smoyer, received the Bronze Star Medal at the National WWII Memorial, Washington, D.C., Sept. 18, 2019.
Family, friends, former crewmates, history enthusiasts, and WWII reenactors all gathered to witness the history of a long-awaited award, given to the most-worthy of Soldiers and tank crew.
Pvt. Homer Davis, Pfc. John DeRiggi, and Tech. Cpl. William McVey, all posthumously received the Bronze Star Medal, accepted by their family members.
Adam Makos, author of the book "Spearhead," was the master of ceremonies for the event, retelling the story of Smoyer, the "Hero of Cologne."
It was March 6, 1945, in Cologne, Germany. A German Panther tank had destroyed two American tanks, killing three troops. Over the radio, the five-man Pershing tank crew from Company E, 32nd Armored Regiment, consisting of Smoyer, Davis, DeRiggi, McVey, and Staff Sgt. Robert Earley, the tank's commander, heard their call sign, "Eagle 7," over the radio.
They were riding in an experimental tank, only one of twenty in the European theater at the time, with an elite crew and a 90mm gun. Other men had been ordered against the Panther, but the crew of "Eagle 7" volunteered to attack it themselves.
At the time Army cameraman Tech. Sgt. Jim Bates had been on scene filming and immortalizing the battle for the world to see.
McVey held the throttle steady, Earley spoke over the mic, Smoyer pre-positioned the gun, and Davis was the first to see the Panther. Through the site, Smoyer, staring down the barrel, could see the Panther, muzzle to muzzle. McVey slammed on the back-steering brakes and Smoyer knew he had to hit the Panther. Smoyer called for a new shell and DeRiggi rammed it into the breach.
A total of three shots were expended against the Panther, which was left in ruins. The five-man tank crew had defeated the Nazi tank and the world would come to know it.
Smoyer had been told he was nominated for a Bronze Star Medal and went for a walk. Along the walk, Smoyer was approached by a small group of German children. Searching through his pockets he found some bubble gum to give to the children.
At the time, a military order had been issued; there was to be no fraternizing with the enemy. A nearby Military Police Officer had witnessed the event, recording Smoyer's name, rank and serial number to file a report on Smoyer's infraction.
This infraction led to the rejection of Smoyer's Bronze Star Medal which would become a stain that vanished over time; he made it home alive and that was worth more than any award.
Through diligent research while writing his book, Makos was able to find that both Earley and Bates had previously been awarded the Bronze Star Medal for their efforts during the battle.
Makos discovered that in order for Smoyer to receive the Bronze Star Medal, they would need eyewitness testimonial from that day. He persisted in obtaining all the necessary information to resubmit the award. Makos gathered former Sgt. Joe Caserta, the tank commander who fought behind Smoyer, Sgt. Malcom "Buck" Marsh, Jr., infantryman, and fellow WWII Veteran, Harley Swenson, tank-driver of Company B, to document their stories.
With the help of many, to include Sgt. Maj. Daniel Daily, the 15th Sergeant Major of the Army, and Ryan McCarthy, acting Secretary of the Army, the awards for Smoyer, Davis, DeRiggi, and McVey were submitted and approved.
Unbeknownst to Smoyer, who believed he was headed to the Pentagon for a book signing, he would be recognized for his bravery and heroic actions, receiving the Bronze Star Medal at the age of 96.
Following the ceremony, Smoyer, along with family and friends, all gathered around a Sherman tank, named "Eagle," parked in a field near the National WWII Memorial.
With a combined five Bronze Star Medals, "Eagle 7" is possibly the most decorated tank crew of WWII.
During the event, Soldiers from the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) provided ceremonial support featuring The U.S. Army Color Guard and musical support by The U.S. Army Brass Quintet, The United States Army Band, "Pershing's Own."