Army veteran Clarence Smoyer, the 'Hero of Cologne' who helped take the town of Cologne, Germany in March 1945 as tank gunner with the famous 'Eagle 7' M26 Pershing tank crew, finally received the Bronze Star nearly 75 years after his battlefield heroics.
Smoyer, 95, received his Bronze Star during a ceremony at the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.
The rest of the Eagle 7 tank crew — bow gunner Homer Davis, driver William McVey, and loader John DeRiggi — received their Bronze Star posthumously; their families accepted them on their behalf.
Their commander, Bob Earley, had previously received the Bronze Star.
Army Maj. Peter Semanoff pins a Bronze Star medal onto the lapel of World War II veteran Clarence Smoyer.DOD: C. Todd Lopez
Smoyer earned his nickname following the March 6, 1945 showdown in which his Pershing tank destroyed a German Panther tank in front of a cathedral, a battle captured on film and screened in theaters across the United States.
Smoyer was 21 at the time of the battle and had arrived in France with his crew just weeks after D-Day, according to Stars and Stripes,
Adam Makos, who wrote the book Spearhead about legendary tank showdown, called Cologne “Germany's fortress city,” and Smoyer “recalled the fear he felt” as his crew entered the city, according to the Army release.
But Smoyer said his unit's commander told his soldiers, “'Gentlemen, I give you Cologne. Let's knock the hell out of it.' And we obliged.”
During the battle, Smoyer's Eagle 7 crew encountered the German tank situated in front of a cathedral and “harassing American forces,” Stars and Stripes reports.
The Germans had already killed several U.S. soldiers, and “left other crews paralyzed.” But Eagle 7 decided to take a crack at it.
Spearheard author Makos described the full-frontal assault on the German Panther tank a “suicide mission.” But the Eagle 7 crew “volunteered” and eased into the intersection in front of the cathedral, which put them “muzzle to muzzle” with the Nazis.
Smoyer then fired three shots at the Germans, saying that he “wanted that tank to burn up, which it did — it eventually caught fire.”
The entire battle — 45 seconds, according to Stars and Stripes — was caught on camera by an American combat correspondent nearby, according to the Army.
Smoyer's sister even saw it at the theater afterwards and, after recognizing her brother, asked the theater to play it again the next day so their parents could see it.
Smoyer believed that he cost himself his own shot at a Bronze Star the day after the showdown, when a pair of German children approached him and asked for bubblegum
“I tried to explain to them I didn't have anything. I pulled my pockets out to show them they were empty … I took them by their hands and took them back to their mother.” Smoyer said.
“And then I turned around and started to walk away, and the MPs pull up alongside of me, and ask for my name and rank. 'You're not supposed to be talking to the Germans' they told me. I think that caused me to lose the Bronze Star.”
Speaking on Wednesday, Smoyer called receiving his Bronze Star “an honor.”
“I will always honor that,” he said. “I'll do that in remembrance of all the young boys that were killed over there.”