There’s a best-selling book, Spearhead, which says on its cover, “An American tank gunner, his enemy and a collision of lives in World War II.”
Smoyer is the tank gunner the book is about. He played a crucial role in the battle for Cologne, Germany’s “Fortress City.” He happens to live in Allentown, Pennsylvania, as I do.
Over the course of seventeen years, I interviewed more than a hundred war veterans for The Morning Call. Smoyer wasn’t among them. How did I overlook an outstanding ex-soldier who was practically in my backyard?
I never knew about him, that’s why. No one told me there was a guy originally from Lehighton whose duel with a German Panther tank in Cologne was caught on film and made him a hero. What a gripping and remarkable story he had to tell!
And best-selling author Adam Makos told it in Spearhead, published this year.
So, how did Makos know about Smoyer?
A former co-worker of mine, reporter Nicole Radzievich, wrote about Smoyer several times this year for The Call and pointed me to an online story by WNEP-TV near Scranton.
Peter Semanoff met Smoyer almost twenty years ago while doing an Eagle Scout project with World War II veterans in Lehighton, WNEP reported. Semanoff later went to Lycoming College, where he got to know Makos, a fellow student. Makos became a writer of WWII stories, and Semanoff urged him to interview Smoyer. He was persistent about it over the years, and Makos ultimately took him up on it. The result was Spearhead.
A part of Semanoff’s story jogged my memory. Eight years ago, when I was still at The Call, someone called my attention to an Eagle Scout project – a booklet of interviews with Lehigh Valley veterans. The Scout was Keegan Amal Boyle of Troop 306 in Bethlehem.
For reasons I can’t recall, I didn’t do anything with the tip, other than save a digital copy of Boyle’s booklet. It was a missed opportunity. Now I was wondering if he, like Semanoff, had interviewed Smoyer. It was just a hunch.
I looked at the booklet for the first since time since I’d gotten it.
“I wanted to work on an Eagle Scout project that would represent the influences of the Lehigh Valley on the world,” Boyle wrote in his introduction. “I wanted to invoke inspiration in the minds of the citizens of this area by demonstrating the rich history that we have in our own backyards.”
He wrote that World War II veterans “represent the foundation of America and the values that our country protects. … My main objective in publishing these stories is to capture the essence of a time when American loyalty meant more than saying the Pledge of Allegiance.”
Boyle’s booklet, which he self-published, contains his stories on fifteen veterans, with now-and-then photos of each. Among the interviewees is Charles Gubish, a Marine I wrote about in 2015 for my series, War Stories in Their Own Words.
And yes, Smoyer is in the booklet. Boyle quotes him as being employed as a woodworker in Slatington and working at Bethlehem Steel before he was drafted into the Army. The interview doesn’t touch on Smoyer’s combat experiences. It’s chronological and ends with his arrival in England to train for the invasion of Normandy.
Boyle got his Eagle Scout Award in August 2011. He was eighteen. He planned to attend McDaniel College in Maryland and study law. I’d like to get in touch with him.
In September at the World War II Memorial in Washington, Smoyer was awarded a Bronze Star, which he had been in line to get almost 75 years ago. The medal was pinned on the 96-year-old by Army Maj. Peter Semanoff, who had met Smoyer while doing an Eagle Scout project nearly two decades ago and persuaded Makos to interview him.