BOSTON (WCVB/CNN) – A World War II veteran got a big surprise Wednesday in Boston.
Clarence Smoyer, 95, served as a tank gunner in Europe, where he played a role in a famous tank duel.
On Wednesday, Smoyer got a chance to ride in the same kind of Sherman tank he fought in during the war.
"That tank saved my life," he said.
The last time he’d been in a tank was 1945. But instead of enemy snipers, the road Smoyer traveled Wednesday was lined with cheering spectators and American flags.
Smoyer fought with the U.S. Army’s 3rd Armored Division, nicknamed the Spearhead Division. Now he’s one of the last remaining survivors.
In 1945, he defeated a German Panzer tank in Cologne, Germany, in a dramatic duel that was captured on film.
“He’s one of the few American’s who’s ever done that,” said Rob Collings, the executive director of the nonprofit Collings Foundation.
Smoyer’s ride coincides with the release of the book “Spearhead,” which details Smoyer’s time in the war and the men he served with.
“There’s heroes like Clarence hiding in our own midst,” said Adam Makos, the book’s author. “They’re our neighbors, they’re our grandfathers, and they’re passing away really fast, and so we need to honor them. We need to give them a salute like this while we can."
Smoyer, who lives in Allentown, PA, had expected a taxi to take him from his hotel to the USS Constitution Museum for a book signing Wednesday. Instead, he found the tank waiting outside.
Makos helped arrange the ride after Smoyer made offhand comments to him about how he’d like to get aboard his old Sherman tank one last time.
The American Heritage Museum in Hudson, MA, sent the tank and re-enactors representing infantrymen to walk alongside for the short trip to the museum, and service members from the USS Constitution and onlookers came outside to salute Smoyer as the tank rolled down the street.