World War II

A DEADLY DUEL

CLARENCE SMOYER IS A SOFT-SPOKEN VETERAN who usually downplays his service in World War II, when he was, for a time, America’s most famous tank gunner. During the Battle of Cologne in March 1945, a combat photographer caught a duel between his Pershing tank and a German Panther on film; it played in newsreels around the country. Now 95, Smoyer is the subject of a new book by Adam Makos, Spearhead: An American Tank Gunner, His Enemy, and a Collision of Lives in World War II, and still attends reunions of his unit, the 3rd Armored—or “Spearhead”—Division, which saw Cold War duty and fought in the Gulf War before being inactivated in 1992.

How did you end up in the tank corps?

After the draft, I was called up in 1943 to basic training at Fort Knox. First thing I did was to volunteer for the paratroopers; fighting with an elite force just seemed like a better way of making it back in one piece. Instead of giving me wings, they assigned me to the tank

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