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WWII veteran shares his story about the invasion of Cologne and how he saved fellow soldiers

Posted at 3:21 PM, Mar 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-30 20:21:46-04

DENVER — The street in front of Union Station was closed for part of the morning Saturday to honor World War II veterans with a military parade and ceremony.

Military jeeps, motorcycles and a tank passed by dozens of spectators who were holding American flags and cheering. The parade was meant to commemorate the 74th anniversary of the death of General Maurice Rose, a Denver native who was killed in combat.

Aboard the tank was one of the soldiers who served under General Rose’s command, Clarence Smoyer.

“He was the greatest general in the war. He always used to tell his men, ‘We lead from the front, we don’t lead from the back with the cooks and supplies’,” he said.

But Smoyer is a hero in his own right. He served as a tank gunner in World War II during the invasion of Cologne in Germany. His story was recently published in a book titled Spearhead, named after his division.

“The lieutenant said, ‘Gentleman I give you Cologne, let’s knock the hell out of it,’ and we obliged him,” he said.

He sat down with Denver7 to talk about some of his memories from the war and why it’s important to remember this part of history.

“I hope they realize the hard times we went through during the war,” he said. “It never goes away, it stays with me all the time.”

Smoyer was dubbed the "Hero of Cologne" after he destroyed two German tanks in the city and saved his fellow soldiers.

“After the war, the crewmen from the light tank would always tell me, ‘You saved my life in Cologne,’ and I said, ‘No I didn’t, I saved my own life and you just came along for the ride,'” Smoyer said.

The tanks continued their campaign of more than 100 miles and eventually became part of the longest overland military advance in history at the time.

Smoyer spent weeks and months living and sleeping in the tank, in a very confined space with only a sleeping bag for comfort.

“It was cold, we were freezing inside of the tank there,” he said. “I would put my legs over the top of the gun, zip up and that’s how we used to sleep.”

One person would always stay away, though, to keep an eye out for enemies.

Smoyer relived a part of that history Saturday when he climbed back into a historic tank to take part in the parade. During the war, when he was a 21-year-old soldier, Smoyer said he had no problem hopping onto the tank and getting inside.

This time, it took a ladder, a half dozen volunteers and a lot of effort to help Smoyer get into the tank, a fact he laughs about.

Smoyer hopes the parade, his story and the book will keep the memories of the invasion of Cologne alive for future generations.

“I don’t see why it should be forgotten,” he said.