in: Character, Military, Podcast

• Last updated: September 30, 2021

Podcast #494: The Inspiring Story of One of WWII’s Greatest Tank Gunners

Recently, I participated in the AoM podcast’s first live audience interview. It took place at Magic City Books here in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and joining me for the interview was two-time past guest Adam Makos. Makos, the author of A Higher Call and Devotion, was here in T-Town to discuss his most recent book, Spearhead: An American Tank Gunner, His Enemy, and a Collision of Lives in World War II.

Spearhead follows the story of Clarence Smoyer — a quiet kid from Pennsylvania coal country who became one of the greatest tank gunners in World War II history — and how his life crossed paths with an enemy tanker, Gustav Schaefer, during the Battle of Cologne. Adam shares how he became interested in WWII history as a kid and how he found Clarence’s story. He then gives us an engaging rundown of tank warfare in WWII, and walks us through Clarence’s hero’s journey and the epic battles he faced with calm commitment and a love for his team of tankers. We end our conversation discussing what happened when Clarence and Gustav recently met up as old men, and the lessons Adam thinks members of the social media age can take from the veterans of the Big One.

Show Highlights

  • How Adam got started writing WWII history books as a young guy 
  • The unifying theme of Adam’s work 
  • How Adam found the story of Clarence Smoyer 
  • The run down on tank warfare in WWII
  • Why America’s tank technology lagged behind 
  • The 5 different roles on a tank crew 
  • How Clarence cemented his role as a gunner (despite not wanting it) 
  • Gustav, the German tanker, and why he’s easy to root for
  • How Clarence and Gustav crossed paths 
  • The epic Battle of Cologne 
  • Clarence’s feelings — 75 years later even — on his heroics in that battle 
  • Clarence’s final WWII mission  
  • His life after the war 
  • How Clarence and Gustav met as old men 
  • The homecoming that Clarence finally received as a 95-year-old 
  • The takeaways Adam got from writing this story 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Book cover page of "Spearhead" by Adam Makos.

Connect With Adam 

Adam’s website

Adam on Twitter

Adam on Instagram

Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)


Google Podcasts.





Listen to the episode on a separate page.

Download this episode.

Subscribe to the podcast in the media player of your choice.

Recorded on

Podcast Sponsors

Collection by Michael Strahan. Makes it easy to look good and feel your best no matter the occasion; includes sport coats, dress shirts, accessories, and more. Visit for more information.

Shapr. Take networking from awkward to awesome with Shapr: the number one professional networking platform that uses your experience, interests, and goals to help you make the right connections.

Capterra. The leading free online resource for finding small business software. With over 700 specific categories of software, you’re guaranteed to find what’s right for your business. Go to to try it out for free. 

Click here to see a full list of our podcast sponsors.

Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. Recently I participated in the AOM podcast first live audience interview. Took place at Magic City Books here in Tulsa, Oklahoma back in March.

And joining me for the interview was two-time past guest Adam Makos. Makos is the author of A Higher Call and Devotion, and was here in Tulsa to discuss his most recent book, Spearhead: An American Tank Gunner, His Enemy, and a Collision of Lives in World War II. Spearhead follows the story of Clarence Smoyer, a quiet kid from Pennsylvania coal country. Becomes one of the tank gunners in World War II history and how his life crossed paths with enemy tanker Gustav Schaefer during the Battle of Cologne.

Adam shares how he became interested in World War II history as a kid and how he found Clarence’s story. He then gives us an engaging rundown of tank warfare in World War II and walks us through Clarence’s hero’s journey and the epic battles he faced with calm commitment and a love for his fellow tankers.

We end our conversation discussing what happened when Clarence and Gustav recently met up as old men and the lesson Adam thinks members of social media age can take from the veterans of the big one. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at

Adam, come on up. We’re gonna bring the show, the man of the hour here and we’ll do an introduction with Adam. To give you a background with my connection with Adam. With the podcast, this is gonna be my third time I’ve interviewed Adam about his work. He’s a phenomenal guy. One of the things that drew me to Adam is his affection and his tenderness and his dedication to ensuring these stories of ‘The Greatest Generation’ stay alive, stay with us. And also what drew me, he’s a young guy. He’s my age, and he has that dedication to keeping these stories alive. That’s not something you see too common. We’ll talk about how he got started and became one of the premiere World War II historians at such a young age.

Adam, thanks again for doing this. Really appreciate it. I’m really excited about this. I know our podcast listeners are familiar with your back story, but for those who are here are not, how did you get started writing New York Times best selling books about World War II? Because most World War II historians, they’re Baby Boomers. They write their first book maybe in their 30s, hit their stride in their 40s, write their big one in their 50s. You’re 38. This is your third book, big book. Already a New York Times best seller. Number four this week. First one was A Higher Call. How did this happen? How did you get started so young at doing this?

Adam Makos: Well, Brett I always say, “I owe it to my grandfathers.” They were the ones who made it all possible. First, I wanted to say thank you to you for being such a great friend over the years. But really in this field, it’s really cool to find an ally who appreciates what you do. Because a lot of times growing up, my peers in middle school and high school, I would talk to them about the Flying Tigers or about the B-17s bombing Germany, and they just kinda looked at me like I was speaking Greek.

We’ve seen a Renaissance in the last maybe 15 years of people coming to appreciate our World War II veterans. It helps when there’s movies like Saving Private Ryan and helps when there’s video games like Call of Duty. Everything contributes toward that. But at the same time, The Art of Manliness, it’s a culture that celebrates an old culture and the values of the 40’s and 50’s and 60’s and an era when things were … I don’t know, I don’t wanna say simpler, but what I wanna say is I appreciate having your support from the beginning.

It’s great to be at Magic City Books. I’ve heard about this bookstore for a long time. I live out in Colorado these days, and this is a nationally known store. Tulsa, I’m coming to know, is a beautiful gem. It’s a hidden gem. I probably shouldn’t tell people to move here, but they should move here because it’s a tremendous, tremendous city with good people.

Let’s get into the World War II stuff.

Brett McKay: Let’s get into the World War II stuff. The World War II stuff. Let’s talk about this … Obviously you’ve written three books. But this wasn’t your start with World War II history. You actually got started with this, like you said, in middle school, in high school with a thing called Valor Magazine. So tell us about Valor Magazine. How this segued into writing these books.

Adam Makos: Sure. My grandfathers got me started when I was really young. They would tell me their war stories. One had been on B-17s in the Pacific. One was a Marine sent to invade to Japan. They used to show me their photo albums, take me to air museums, we’d watch war movies together. It was interesting because neither of them had seen heavy combat in the war. So to them, the heroes like John Basilone and Joe Foss and these World War II heroes, Gabby Gabreski, were their heroes. And so they became my heroes. I was very lucky I didn’t have grandfathers that had fought on Guadalcanal or a place like that. Growing up, I wanted to share that appreciation for these heroes, and the way I found it was on a rainy day.

Had my first computer, it had this publishing software on it, Make Your Own Newsletter. My brother, best friend and myself, we said, “What do we make our little publication about? We’re gonna be journalists.” And what we decided was not race cars, not baseball players. Veterans’ stories. So we interviewed our grandfathers, the men in our neighborhood, next thing it was in our cities and it became a magazine. And now here we are 20 years later publishing books.

Brett McKay: What did these World War II vets think when this lanky middle schooler said, “Hey I wanna do a story about you?” Were they pretty receptive to it? Or were they kinda like, “What is going on here?”

Adam Makos: They really were receptive because I think it was rare to see young people caring about them. We had patrons. I almost say they’re like patron saints. Dick Winters of the Band of Brothers, leader of the unit, he lived in Hershey. I lived in Central Pennsylvania, and I would go sit down with him and talk with him. This was a guy who would shut the door to most adults. He would say, “I’m not home. I can’t sign your autographs. I can’t write letters to you,” because he was this public figure. But he said, “I’ll let you in.” And so from the guys at the top like him … I got a letter from Bob Dole the other day, George Herbert Walker Bush … Whether you’re talking about the highest of heroes or the guy who was the local mailman who flew B-24s, they opened the door and they said, “Let’s talk.”

Brett McKay: And how did your work with Valor Magazine with your brother, how did that transition to writing these big books? These epic stories that you found.

Adam Makos: Well, the magazine work was the training grounds. The way I learned to write … A lot of people ask, “Did you take English classes in college?” No, I studied marketing. That was my backup ’cause I kind of never thought that this would happen. I hoped it would, but that was a backup plan. Go work for a marketing firm somewhere.

The way I learned to write was I would write these stories on the weekend, I’d bring them in to my English teacher in high school, and he would just cover these things in red pen. “Adam, you should write would versus should. You should write shall versus this.” And he just ripped my work to pieces every single time. I tried to get better learning through mistakes. I think that’s the way a lot of life is. I found failure … ’cause I’ve had books that didn’t succeed like I thought … Failure can either break you or you take the lessons from it and you come back stronger. And that’s what we just did with Spearhead.

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about your first book, A Higher Call. How old were you when that came out? ‘Cause that was the thing that put you on the map.

Adam Makos: Yeah. 32 years old when A Higher Call came out. It went right to the top of the best seller list. I was very lucky because Franz and Charlie lived an incredible life. Again, it’s the story of the American bomber limping home over Germany. First mission for the crew, 21-year-old pilot at the controls. Charlie Brown is just sweating trying to get his crew back to England. He flies over an airfield. German fighter pilot, Franz Stiller takes off, needs one more kill, and he’s gonna get the Knight’s Cross. And instead he decides to spare this bomber when he sees it’s defenseless. Think how good that story is. Sometimes the writer is important, but sometimes the meat, the story, is what carries it.

Brett McKay: One thing I’ve noticed, I’ve noticed a unifying ribbon or thread through all your books. Correct if I’m wrong. What do you think is the unifying theme through all the books? How do you decide … You’ve talked to all these veterans and they all have amazing stories, but how do you decide this story, we need to dedicate an entire book to this?

Adam Makos: Well, there’s always these pieces you look for. It has to have a deeper message. A Higher Call was about two men from different sides who became brothers, Franz and Charlie. Devotion was about Tom Hudner and Jesse Brown, two men from different worlds. One black, one white, who became wing men. I love those stories where there’s humanity in the midst of war. I don’t wanna write about the World War II veteran who got the Medal of Honor for killing 200 Germans, and that’s what he did. He saved his friends. I wanna write about the times when humanity triumphed.

If I can find those stories when it’s about more than just the body count, when it’s just more than the planes that are shot down, it’s more than the records. When it’s about people changing and people realizing that … growing as heroes. I love to watch somebody grow into a hero and I love to watch warriors put down their swords, mostly as old men and come together and say, “We’ve gotta steer humanity in a different direction if we can.”

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about your latest book, Spearhead right here. Already number four on New York Times best seller. Last night at dinner at the Tavern, you told me you got an email, fourth print run, which is phenomenal. When did it come out?

Adam Makos: Came out February 19th. So barely two weeks ago.

Brett McKay: It’s phenomenal. It’s fantastic. Big success already. How did you find the story about Clarence and his … ‘Cause he’s, I would say probably one of the best gunners in World War II history the way you describe him. How did you find this story?

Adam Makos: I never thought lightning would strike twice. This story is on level with A Higher Call. I got a tip from a college buddy. He said, “There’s a World War II hero living in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and nobody knows it.” The only reason my buddy knew it was because when he was a kid, he did his Eagle Scout project, and he went door to door interviewing veterans to try to preserve their stories. That was his project. So he knew this guy was there. He found him. This veteran’s neighbors didn’t know he was there. His kids didn’t know what he had done in the war. He was a mystery. But back in World War II he was famous.

He was known as ‘The Hero of Cologne.’ He was known as one of our tank aces for destroying five German tanks. He was this 21-year-old corporal who led the U.S. Army into the biggest battle of the European war. The biggest urban battle, the city of Cologne. So you had a remarkable hero. I knocked on his door, and Clarence Smoyer, he answered, and he invited me inside and sat down at the table. The more he told me about his war experience, the more I knew those pieces were there to make a book.

Brett McKay: Is that how most of these stories, they just kind of fall into your lap? Do the stories find you or do you have to proactively go find the stories?

Adam Makos: It’s a little bit of both. I don’t wanna get preachy, but I do feel that there’s a bigger purpose at work. Because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a story and I’ve chased it. “Oh, I’m gonna go up to this veteran’s reunion. I’m gonna talk to everyone I can.” And then I find out the heroes are all gone. Or it falls apart. Or the guys are tired of talking. I’ve had more books fall apart than have succeeded, and that’s the greatest thing ever. ‘Cause I look at the ones that have fallen apart, they weren’t meant to be. The ones that do work, they say don’t beat down the doors, walk through doors that are open to you. And so my best books have felt inspired by something bigger than me.

Brett McKay: All right. So before we get into Clarence’s story and also some of the other characters in the book, let’s do a little background about tank warfare in World War II ’cause, I’ll be honest, before I read Spearhead I didn’t really know much about tank warfare. Most of the World War II stuff, when you read it or you watch the movies, is always about the planes. You watch the movies, everyone wants to  be a Flyboy. You see the Rosie the Riveter working on a B-52 bomber. So tanks never really captured my imagination. But after this book, I was like, “This is amazing.” What was the role of the tank for the Americans in World War II?

Adam Makos: Well, the role of the tank … I was surprised, ’cause this was an education for me too. I had always written the aviation stuff. I was surprised to find … I always thought our shock troops were the 82nd Airborne, 101st. A lot of times they were put on the front lines. They would drop behind the lines and then they would hold out.

But who was really responsible for cutting through the German lines? For hammering their way through? It was these Armored Divisions. There were two heavy Armored Divisions. One was the 2nd Armored Division, “Hell on Wheels”, that fought in Sicily and then up into Normandy. The other was the 3rd Armored Division, “Spearhead”. Now I’d never heard of the Spearhead Division. I’d heard of those other great ones, but this was a division that lost more tanks than any other division in World War II, American. It had lost more men than the 101st or the 82nd Airborne. This was an unsung division that had actually seen incredible combat.

The reason they weren’t so well known is because this armored division would pierce through the enemy lines and they’d keep running. They were specialists at deep drives behind the lines, just sowing mayhem, and there’s stories of them being deep behind German lines and German soldiers are walking down the street and next thing you know, they just drop their rifles when they see this armored convoy race by. But the unit was moving in radio silence a lot. So they weren’t sending dispatches back. The journalists weren’t. They were a secretive unit.

So Patton’s 3rd Army … Everybody knew where Patton’s 3rd Army was. Everybody knew what Patton was doing with his ivory pistols. But the 3rd Armored Division, this heavy armored division, was running silent.

Brett McKay: For most of World War II, what was the primary tank that the Americans used?

Adam Makos: The Sherman. We might recognize it from the movie Fury. It’s the only tank movie you can really point to. The Sherman was a great tank in 1942. We sent it into Africa with the British first. They loved it. It was knocking out tanks at El Alamein and the trouble was the Sherman stayed the same, ’42, ’43, ’44, and we’re sending them into Normandy and we’ve got the same 75 millimeter Shermans going into the hedgerows and suddenly they run into this German tank, the Panther. And then they run into this Tiger tank. And we realized that the Germans had been up armoring their tanks, up gunning their tanks, and ours were staying the same.

Brett McKay: What was going on? Why was that? Because from my understanding, Eisenhower and Patton, even as World War I soldiers, just right out of World War I, they saw that the future of warfare was tank warfare. They wrote all these papers saying, we gotta upgrade our tank war, the tank battalions and all those things and they got laughed at. And they told them, their uppers, the people above them said, “Don’t talk about this anymore.” Why were the Americans so reluctant to upgrade the tanks even though they’d become such a vital part of the war effort?

Adam Makos: Well, it was part of the proximity of where the war was fought. We had to ship everything over to Europe. We weren’t manufacturing our tanks in England or France or anywhere, so we had to ship everything. You wanted these medium tanks, lighter ones are even better. You don’t want to be loading up your troop transports with heavy tanks. The Sherman worked for Patton. It was reliable. It was fast. It could move and make these deep drives. So they were seeing the strategic use of it. We’ll take eight Shermans to tackle one Panther. Okay, we’re all right with that. Now the crews who had to do that, they hated it. Suddenly they’re being asked to hold their fire and try to get around the sides or the back of the enemy. That was considered like a death sentence. But from a strategic level, yeah the Sherman tank worked fine. The Germans at the end of the war even had a saying. They would say, “One of our tank is better than 10 of yours. But you always bring 11.”

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about the tank crew. How many men were to a tank? What did that look like?

Adam Makos: Sherman tank had five men. In fact, the German tanks had five. You had your gunner, and you had your loader. You had your commander. That’s the turret crew. Then you usually had a driver and a bow gunner. Bow gunner in the German tanks was also the radio man. You had five guys, and in Clarence’s case, this was his family. He used to say, “We’re a family locked in a sardine can.” They were his best buddies.

When I met Clarence, he had these thick glasses and he’s this robust … and he was just this gentle guy and he would sit down in the chair and tell these stories. I wondered how could this guy be possibly American’s most lethal tank gunner? I found out he did it because he loved his buddies. He knew that if he missed, someone was gonna die. Statistically when a Sherman tank was hit, one man was gonna come out dead. Another was gonna come out in pieces, wounded. He knew each time that roulette wheel was gonna spin if he didn’t shoot first, shoot straight and not miss. He was a great gunner, not because he wanted to kill more of the enemy than anyone else, he was a great gunner because he cared about keeping his buddies alive.

Brett McKay: So you mentioned the Panther and the Tiger were probably superior. They were superior tanks to the Sherman. What were the limitations of the Sherman? Why did it become … Why did so many people die when they got assigned to a Sherman?

Adam Makos: One of the reasons is … the armor. The Germans just built these bigger guns and so their 75 millimeter gun on the Panther, it was almost twice the size of our shell. Packed full of powder. It was called a super velocity gun. It could literally shoot through one Sherman and into a second. That had happened in Normandy. In the Battle of the Bulge there were instances where a Sherman was parked on one side of a house, a Panther on the other side of the house would put that shell through both walls of the house and into the tank and knock it out. The trouble really was they just kept building their armor and building their guns and we kept ours the same. It’s 1942 technology fighting a 1944, ’45 war.

Brett McKay: You talk about in the books there was actually journalists that went out to Europe, they interviewed people, guys on the Sherman tanks, and they talked about, complaining about, “These things are under armored, and we’re actually putting on our own armor on the tanks.” It reminded me a lot of what was going on during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars with the Humvee’s, where you’d read these stories, hear these stories of soldiers having to put body armor and body plates on the Humvee’s ’cause it just wasn’t enough to withstand the IED’s. Tell us about that. I thought that was really interesting.

Adam Makos: It was amazing. Coming out of the Battle of the Bulge, we lost so many tanks, we were borrowing them from the British in order to go into Germany. The losses were so heavy.

Here’s what some of the guys were saying. Our Stars and Stripes reporter caught up with some of them, and he wrote an article called, ‘Shells Bounce off Tigers, Veteran U.S. Tank men Say.’ And this is what they said. A tank commander said, “We’re just out tanked and out gunned, that’s all. We don’t mind the lack of armor on our tanks as much as lack of firepower. But it’s mighty aggravating to let fly with everything you’ve got and just have the shells bounce off the front of the Gerry tanks.” His bow gunner concurred with him. He said, “Don’t misunderstand us. All we want is a better gun. We’ll be ready to tackle any of them.” Their company commander, “Our morale would be a lot better if there weren’t so many cock and bull stories in the papers about how our tanks are world beaters. We lose four or five tanks, and then the boys on the busted up tanks have the guts to go out and do it again.”

It was a lot about the courage of the individual tanker that kept them going, but also the men took precautions. In Patton’s Army, they were cutting the armor off of knocked out German tanks and welding it to the front of their Shermans. In other armies, they were taking concrete and making three or four inches of concrete armor on the front of a Sherman. Others were putting baskets filled with sandbags, steel baskets around the tanks. It was just like Iraq. Just like the Stryker vehicles. Just like the Humvee’s being armored in the field to try to get our guys through.

Brett McKay: So the Sherman was the main tank for most of the war, but they introduced a new tank finally, the Pershing. How did the Pershing change the game?

Adam Makos: This is exciting ’cause I had never heard of the Pershing before this. I knew it existed in the Korean War, but its World War II use was a mystery. Clarence was one of the Pershing gunners. What happened was the Army decided when they read those articles like we just quoted in Stars and Stripes, Eisenhower and the brass back home, there was an uproar. The people in the States were saying, “Wait a second. I though our boys had the best of everything.”

And so they decided to ship these new tanks over that were coming right off the assembly line. The first 20 Pershings, they shipped right to Europe. Untested. The next 20 Pershings, they shipped to Fort Knox. They would test them there. So Clarence Smoyer got one of these 20 new super tanks, and it was his job to test it on the field of battle. It had a 90 millimeter gun. It was lower and wider. It was like the German tanks. Lower profile. It almost looked like a German tank. And it had an automatic transmission so they could back out of a bad situation. It was state-of-the-art battlefield equipment.

The downside to it was when Clarence and his buddies are celebrating this tank that is gonna bring them through the war, their commander comes up, he says, “There’s one problem. You are leading every attack now. Best tank goes forward.” And at first, that was hard for Clarence to stomach.

Brett McKay: Okay, let’s get into Clarence’s story now. At what point in the war do you pick up with Clarence and his crew?

Adam Makos: We meet Clarence … In this book I don’t teach you about where he came from, and we don’t go into how he grew up and the lessons he learned from his grandpa on his knee. We go right into the battle. We meet Clarence when he’s reloading his tank outside of Mons, Belgium. It’s during the breakout from France. We’re driving the Germans out of France three months after D-Day, and Clarence is getting ready ’cause there’s a German Army coming at him. And he’s a new gunner. Clarence at first had this hesitation to become a gunner. Again, he was this gentle giant and he was happy being a loader. He just liked shoveling the shells in the breech, letting somebody else pull the trigger.

But they discovered that he had a hidden talent. Back during the training … the Army had taken their unit to the seacoast of England and they set these targets on the dunes about 1,000 yards away. And the gunners were blasting away at them. And then they said, “Wait a second, what if our gunners get killed? The loaders need to know how to shoot.” So they all switched seats, and they had a competition. The loaders were all gonna shoot at these 1,000-yard targets, and Clarence hit it eight times in a row. Nobody else did. And that night his crew got a magnum of Scotch and that was their reward. And his commander, Paul Fairclough, said, “As soon as we have a chance to change up the crew, you’re gonna be our gunner.” And for Clarence that was the worst praise he could have ever gotten. He didn’t wanna pull the trigger, but he had this innate ability. Didn’t wanna let his buddies down. It was that simple.

Brett McKay: Did he decide … when he signed up, did he sign up for the Army or did he get drafted?

Adam Makos: He was drafted. He’s the coolest hero. He’s a corporal, the whole story. He’s 21 years old. He got drafted. He got dragged into it. And the Army saw that he had taken a class in engine maintenance after high school at a local airport. And they said, “Oh great, you’ve got some experience. You’re going in the mechanized forces.” And so that was it. But he grew up impoverished. Clarence used to at night go around … When other kids were going to baseball games or football games, while other kids were going to the soda fountain, he would take candy bars, Hershey bars, and go door to door selling them to help raise money for his family. ‘Cause his father was a CCC worker, his mother was a housekeeper. They were poor in a poor time, that’s where he developed that protective nature. I have to take care of my family because no one’s gonna take care of us.

Brett McKay: How old was he when he got drafted?

Adam Makos: He was probably about 19.

Brett McKay: Wow. At this point in the story how old … He’s like 21?

Adam Makos: 21 when he hits battle.

Brett McKay: I always … Whenever I read these World War II or even World War I stories, you forget how young these guys were. ‘Cause when you watch the movies, the actors are always in their 30s or 40s. Or if you watch the John Wayne movies, John Wayne’s like 50.

Adam Makos: He’s timeless.

Brett McKay: Right. But these were kids. They’re right out of high school.

Adam Makos: I feel like no war movie has ever made it right. If you saw Fury, Brad Pitt is probably 45 years old. You’ve got Michael Pena, probably same age. You’ve got Jon Bernthal. You’ve got Shia LeBouf. The only guy who actually fits the cast is Logan Lerman and even he’s probably older than they were. You gotta imagine a crew full of Logan Lermans, all 19, 20 years old. It’s quite stunning really.

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about this point, sort of the turning point in the story with Clarence. He was a gunner, having a lot of success. They get to the Battle of the Bulge. They were part of that. How was the Battle of the Bulge a turning point for this story here?

Adam Makos: It’s a turning point because in the Battle of the Bulge we won, but in some ways we lost. We stopped the Germans. Clarence and his guys were at the deepest part in the Bulge, they held the line. They were enough of a buffer, but they were still unable to go against these Panthers that would come marauding down the road. We watched tank after tank in the Bulge get knocked out with our guys simply overwhelming them with numbers. We weren’t really beating them one to one. We came out of the Bulge, everybody was kinda discontent, fearful because we won the battle, but now we had to go into the Third Reich, and it was gonna be even worse.

And that’s how he got the Pershing. February 1945. He test fires it for the first time. The Army, everybody behind him suddenly believes they have their savior. They have the guy who’s gonna lead them into the biggest battle of the war, the city of Cologne.

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about another character you follow throughout the book. This is a German. A young German tanker named Gustav. Tell us about Gustav, and then we’ll talk about how Gustav and Clarence crossed paths.

Adam Makos: We follow a German in this one. Another one of those one in a million stories that I’d have a German to talk about. His name’s Gustav Schaefer. He grew up on a farm in northern Germany. Impoverished, just like Clarence. A lot of people were in the Great Depression. He used to work sunup to sundown, and sometimes his family would work the fields by the light of the moon harvesting rye. They had no radio. They had no lights. His hobby was riding his bike 20 miles to the railroad tracks to watch the trains go by on the Hamburg to Bremen line. That was his dream, to be a locomotive conductor.

It was really cool to see Gustav. Again, he’s this little 18-year-old tank radio operator bow gunner. But he was just a kid. A little blond haired kid, barely five foot, and his father gets drafted and sent to the eastern front. And next thing they call Gustav and they take one look at him, and they know he’s going in the tanks.

But his family had this really cool tradition. Each German farm got a POW, a Russian captured early in the war ’cause there was a manpower shortage. Something that to me told me that Gustav was a worthy character was the way he and his family treated this Russian. This Russian would go out and work the fields all day right alongside of him and at night there was a rule. Before the authorities would come and bring the Russian back to the POW camp where he would spend the night, the farm family was supposed to feed him. But they were not allowed to feed him at the same table that they ate at. He had to sit in the corner at his own table. They couldn’t break bread together. Literally.

And Gustav and his mother concocted this plan where they set up a table in the corner, they would set the cutlery there. They’d put food on the plate. But then the Russian would eat at the table with them. That was in case that knock came at the door. And when the knock came, the Russian would run over and act like he was sitting there all along. But they said, “He did the same work as us. He should be treated the same as us.” Didn’t matter if he was the enemy a year earlier.

Brett McKay: Throughout the story it seemed like the way you described Gustav, he was kind of reluctant … He was a reluctant fighter like Clarence. How did he feel about fighting for the Nazis? Did he believe in the cause or was it just one of those things he just got drafted into, and he had to do it?

Adam Makos: It wouldn’t be the most terrible situation to be in his shoes at that time because Stalingrad had been lost. So they lost a massive army there. Africa had fallen. Sicily had already been invaded. Allies were in Italy. There was no doubt that this storm was coming and it was gonna crush his country. Gustav though felt this duty, the same duty he felt to his farm, the reason he never went and became a locomotive conductor. He was just a farm kid. He felt this duty to his family. It was this storm is coming from both directions. We’re gonna get crushed, and what is my job now? Is my job to protest? Is my job to hide? Or is my job to go out and fight as long as I can to keep the misery away from my people as long as I can?

And so he’s fighting under the wrong flag for the bad guys, and yet at the same time in his mind he’s keeping the pain away from his family that’s impending.

Brett McKay: It all goes back to family, that idea. You’re fighting for not your country, you’re fighting for your family, whether it’s your literal family in Gustav’s case or for Clarence, the guys that he rode in the tank with.

Adam Makos: Exactly. And that’s what make these guys so interesting to root for because you don’t want Gustav to die. You want him to get through these battles. We pick him up where he’s in a Panther tank in Luxembourg and the American Army is closing in on him. And we follow his first battle. We follow when he loses his Panther tank.

And then he gets these orders, “You have to go out at night and destroy your tank. Because your tank didn’t burn. If the Americans take that tank, they’re gonna turn it around against us. They’re gonna use its technology.” And so we get to watch this 18-year-old kid creeping through the moonlit fields, just like when he was a kid he used to work in the fields. Now he’s creeping through with a satchel charge and he’s gotta sneak up through American lines to go destroy his own Panther tank. He didn’t have a chance to say no. This was one of those, “You go or we’re gonna shoot you.” So you see that this kid is thrown in a cauldron pretty quickly.

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about the moment when Clarence and Gustav cross paths at this epic battle, the Battle of Cologne, which you mentioned last night, today is the 75th anniversary of that battle?

Adam Makos: Today is almost … Next year will be 75th, this is 74th. And again, the largest urban battle of the war. The Battle of the Bulge was the largest in Europe. Largest urban battle in Europe is Cologne. And Clarence is leading the Army in. They had to choose what tank is gonna lead us through the gates. Well, it’s the Pershing. It’s the best tank. And Clarence by then had accepted his role. He put it to me, he said, “We have the biggest gun. We belong out in front.” It was just that simple for him.

So he leads the way through and an Army cameraman follows him every step of the way. They wanna show the folks on the home front, “We’re gonna take Germany. We’re gonna end this war.” The goal was to capture the bridge over the Rhine. But the Germans blew up that bridge on the second day of the battle. We knew we weren’t gonna take the bridge, but we had to still take Cologne. It was known as the “Fortress City” because Hitler had ordered it fortified. To be a tank gunner leading the way into Cologne, pretty nightmarish because you don’t have to just look left and right. You have to look up. There’s German soldiers with Molotov cocktails. You have to look down. German guns dug in at basement level. Cannons, 88s that you could drive in front of and boom, you’re gone.

You had to worry about German soldiers with Panzerfaust coming out of the doorway to your left or your right. And a Panzerfaust could poke a hole into that Pershing tank and all that hot molten metal’s gonna bounce around and it’s gonna turn you to shreds. You also had to worry about turning the wrong corner and running into a German tank like Gustav’s.

It was a nightmare city, block by block and it was fought with the armored infantry. These guys who were called doughs. Like dough boys. And they would clear to Clarence’s left and right, but there were times when the doughs even had to drop back and say, “Go forward alone because there’s a German tank out there.”

Brett McKay: Clarence is there. He’s driving and this cameraman’s following him. And he has this epic showdown. A duel. The Pershing versus a Panther. What happened there? What was the outcome of that?

Adam Makos: The Pershing versus Panther duel almost didn’t happen. Because what happened was on his way through the city on the second day, March 6th, 74 years ago right today, Clarence was at an intersection. And he caught sight of a German tank nosing forward into the intersection, then pulling back really fast. He couldn’t even get his gun on it. That was Gustav’s tank. And Gustav’s commander saw this funny looking American tank at the end of the street, and he didn’t know what to do.

So they were hiding behind a building. Clarence knows there’s this German tank there. So they start trading gunfire. They’re just searching for each other. He’s waiting to see a ricochet. Okay, there I hit him. And he’s just firing with the machine guns, and then he gets this bright idea. I’m gonna shoot through the building just like they used to do to us. I’m gonna shoot through the building. So he starts shooting looking for Gustav’s tank, and he notices the building is crumbling. Cologne had been hit by so many airstrikes, it was full of rubble.

Five shots later, Clarence brought the building down on Gustav’s tank. He knocked out the tank. The gun was literally knocked off its ring. It couldn’t turn. The turret couldn’t turn. And that’s when Gustav had this epiphany. Why am I fighting for them? Why am I doing my duty the Third Reich? They blew up the bridge. There’s no escaping this city. They sent me here to die. And you know what, I’ve done my duty long enough. I’m gonna serve myself. I have a duty to myself to stay alive. And he got out, ran away, and he would be captured, and it would save his life. But that duel, the first duel, held up Clarence’s tank. Somebody else went forward, two Sherman tanks, and the results were quite disastrous. They were going to the Cathedral, they were about to win the battle, and an ambush took place.

Brett McKay: Tell us about that ambush.

Adam Makos: It’s known as the Cathedral Duel. The Cathedral Tank Duel. These two Sherman tanks … and one of them had this amazing guy we meet, his names Karl Kellner. 26 years old from Sheboygan, Wisconsin. He’s a tank commander on this Sherman, and victory is in sight. The Cathedral’s at the end of the street. He reaches the Cathedral. The Rhine is right behind it. You can’t go any further. He’s won the battle. He’s the victor at Cologne.

And of all the guys, he deserved it. This guy had a Silver Star from Normandy. He had been wounded twice, hospitalized twice. He got a battlefield commission to second lieutenant just two weeks prior. And he had a young fiancee, Cecilia waiting for him back home. So of all the guys to get the honors as a conqueror of Cologne, it was him. He’s going up the street, and suddenly the shot rings out. His tank gets hit in the turret. Right in the gun mantlet. One shot. Second shot cuts through the rubble, hits the tank. Now you see the tank is steaming, it’s smoking. Men are already dead inside.

And the cameramen filmed the whole thing. They filmed Karl Kellner coming out. They film his gunner coming out. His gunner dives headfirst from the Sherman’s turret. We’re talking eight feet from the top headfirst to the ground. ‘Cause the terror was so much that this German tank had shot them twice, maybe it’s gonna shoot them three times, maybe it’s gonna catch onto fire. Karl rolls over the back of the turret and when you see him in the film, he’s missing his right leg. His right leg is torn off and his pants are literally smoking. Well the cameramen finally put their cameras down. Andy Rooney was one of them, the future CBS journalist. They go and they pick Kellner up, drag him to a shell hole, set him down, and he bleeds to death right there in front of their eyes.

One hour before the battle is won, less than a mile before victory, someone has claimed the life of Karl Kellner and Julian Patrick, his driver who’s sitting there from Kentucky. His eyes are open. He’s dead in the driver’s seat. Cecil Morris, their gunner or the loader, is in pieces in the turret. Never going back to Texas. Somebody’s gotta deal with these guys. Somebody’s gotta deal with this Panther tank. It was a Panther. It pulled from a tunnel. It had laid in ambush, and it parked itself right in front of the Cathedral, daring anyone to come forward.

Brett McKay: That’s what happened to Clarence. Clarence was the guy that dared to come forward.

Adam Makos: Yeah, Clarence said, “Send me.” And there’s a Biblical verse, it’s who shall I send? Who will go forth for us? And the response was, “Send me.” Clarence really embodied that. Selfless spirit. Somebody’s gotta do it. Send me. The Pershing crew took off down that street, and they were coming up a parallel street. This Panther tank was watching the two Shermans it had killed, waiting for the next American tank it could destroy.

Inside that Panther, they had vowed to fight to the last round, but they did it without saying it. They just parked themselves there and were ready to go. So Clarence is coming up a parallel street. The cameraman puts himself in the building aiming down at the Panther. He’s about to capture the coolest viral video of World War II. In that time that it took Clarence’s tank to get up there, the Panther commander, who is a diehard and a veteran, he decided, “They’re not coming this way I’m watching. I’m gonna turn my gun to the right, to the empty intersection, and I’m gonna wait there and see who appears there.” That’s where Clarence was headed.

Clarence and his driver had concocted a plan. He said, “Listen. We’re gonna go out. We’re gonna nose into the intersection. We’re gonna shoot him once, and then you back us out of there.” ‘Cause he had this understanding, German tanks often don’t die in the first shot. Well, the driver says, “Okay.” And as soon as the driver reaches that intersection and lays eyes on that Panther, he sees himself looking down the muzzle of that gun. And he sees his life about to end. He stomps on the gas, and he throws the Pershing tank out into the middle of the intersection.

And that’s where we were so lucky we had Clarence Smoyer at the gun that day. Because he knew he didn’t have time to aim. Milliseconds. So he just fired. He had his sight set … He had lowered his gun, he had turned it to the right in preparation for this moment. He hit the Panther in the back. The shock rattled the German crew inside. The German gunner didn’t squeeze off a round. Instead, that terror struck the men. And the commander came out. Next thing the driver comes out. They start pouring out of the tank.

But it’s not over because there’s five guys in a German tank. If one of them reaches up for that trigger in his dying gasp and they’re already fanatical, they already are fighting when other German soldiers are surrendering or swimming the Rhine to escape the Americans, these guys came to die. So Clarence moved his sights forward, shot it a second time. Moved his sights forward, shot a third time. He made it burn. He made that crew flee. Four out of five of them actually got out of the tank and they ran away. He saved his crew’s life. They backed up, and they’re sitting there just rattled when the cameraman comes down and he says, “I got it all. You’re gonna be the new heroes of World War II.”

Brett McKay: Is this the picture taken after that?

Adam Makos: The cover of the book shows a frame taken from that film. I’ll give you this film for Art of Manliness because it’s something people have to see. But the cover of Spearhead shows this crew literally five minutes after they had stared death in the face. And you see the bow gunner Smoky Davis, he’s literally chain smoking a cigarette. You see the driver, Woody McVey, he’s got this thousand yard stare. You see the commander, Bob Early and he can’t stop fidgeting with his helmet. You see Clarence and he looks like he’s seen a ghost. Clarence has just his curly hair. And then you see this one guy, John Deriggi, the loader and he’s got this kind of cool, debonair smug kind of grin. I always wonder, “Why is he so composed?” The reason is because the loader didn’t have a periscope. The loader didn’t see anything. The loader never saw how close they were to dying.

Brett McKay: I also liked … You’re supposed to wear a helmet as a tanker. And they looked like football helmets, like Spalding actually, they used Spalding football helmets, their leather head helmets … Clarence never wore a helmet. That was his thing.

Adam Makos: That was his thing. And when you came out of the tank, you were always supposed to have a steel pot on. And Clarence would get yelled at again and again. He got ripped apart by his colonel for not wearing his helmet. The best gunner in World War II is kind of a misfit in that regard.

And by the way, he told me to say hello tonight. I actually asked him. I said, “Hey, can I tell the people how you felt about killing that Panther 74 years ago? You’re a badass Clarence. You’re an American badass. What did you think?” He said, “Well, I’m proud I did my job.” I’m like, “Wait a second. You vanquished this crew. You avenged your buddies, who had died in the most terrible way by the hand of this fanatical German crew.” He said, “Well, you know it was my job. It was what I was supposed to do.”

All these years later he said he can’t forget it. It stays with him, and yet he wouldn’t brag about it, even for me to feed to you guys tonight to get you all pumped up. That’s how humble this man is. And that’s how the war stays with him.

Brett McKay: I’ve noticed that with all these World War II vets. When you ask them about Dick Winters, big time heroes you ask them, “How did you do it? Were you proud?” He’s like, “Oh, I was just doing my job.” That’s their go-to response. “I’m just doing my job.”

Adam Makos: Yeah. ‘Cause they knew everybody on their block, everybody in their town, everybody that they knew was over there doing the same job. Today’s military’s different. We have a very small fighting force. I’ve heard it’s like five percent, less than half a percent. 0.5 percent, .05 percent of our population. Less than one percent is doing the fighting for us. Back then, the percentage was ridiculous, so it was easier to be humble about that because everybody did it. Today our guys are the tip of the spear and they’re very special, they’re very exclusive actually.

Brett McKay: What happened to Clarence after Cologne?

Adam Makos: Cologne was not the end for him. He had survived this. There was more to come. There was Germany, deeper into Germany, the heart of Germany, and there was one last battle that I just … Again, we watched him battling a German army in Mons, Belgium. We watched him fighting through the Battle of the Bulge. We watched him fighting their way to Cologne. We watched him fighting in Cologne. And now they get a last mission, which is end the war. What is the heart of Germany? Is it Berlin or is it the Ruhr Valley?

The Ruhr Valley is where Germany was producing all of its munitions. It’s where the coal was coming from, the steel and the bullets. Eisenhower decided, “Let’s let the Russians take the symbolic capital. Let them get Hitler in Berlin. We’re gonna go for the Ruhr. We’ve gotta cut off the lifeline.” And so he sent these two fabled armored divisions, the 2nd armored “Hell on Wheels” and the 3rd armored in the deepest drive of the war for them to encircle the Ruhr.

Clarence’s unit Spearhead made the longest drive, 100 miles in 24 hours, all behind enemy lines to come up from the south, get behind the Ruhr. They encircled it, but there was one town they had to take. It’s a town called Paderborn. This town was where all the rail lines would go through the rail yard there into the Ruhr pocket. All the communication flowed to the Ruhr pocket. The German troops would com ein and out through Paderborn. There was a problem though. Paderborn was the home of the German armor schools. So the Wehrmacht trained its tankers there. The SS trained its tankers there. They experimented on new tanks there. And that’s where they had still a large concentration of tanks at the very end of the war.

Germany only had 200 tanks left on the western front. But they had more than 20 at Paderborn. And those 20, the instructors, battle scarred instructors, got in, they came out and they said, “We’re gonna defend Paderborn to the end.” On Easter morning, April 1st, Clarence and his buddies line up on a hill … It’s like a scene out of Braveheart or a movie. The sun is rising. The chaplain is going from tank to tank. The men are coming out of their hatches, taking off their hats. Some are coming down to the ground, they’re taking a knee, and he’s giving a blessing at each tank. The armored infantry loads up and they’re about to charge across two miles of open field, filled with shell holes. Shell holes filled with German soldiers with Panzerfaust. They’re going along side of an airfield. On that airfield all the Luftwaffe flack guys no longer have planes to shoot at, they’ve got tanks. So they lower their cannons, their 20 millimeters. They’re gonna blast away at the tanks as they come across the field. And to compound it, what’s at the end for us two miles away? We’re gonna attack the Paderborn rail yard. And who’s waiting in the rail yard? Tiger tank, Panthers, the German armor cadre is waiting for us. It’s the ultimate showdown, and that’s the last battle Clarence would fight.

Brett McKay: He took care of it.

Adam Makos: He took care of it. He fought the most veteran German tank crew. The one that scared him the most was waiting for him there. Because they were. These were the guys who were teaching everybody else. He has an incredible showdown there, not even gonna spoil it, but the hardest battle was the last for him.

Brett McKay: After the war, Clarence survived. What was his life like as a veteran?

Adam Makos: He came home, and he thought, “I’m gonna take a couple weeks off. I’m gonna decompress.” And his buddy said, “Hey, all the boys are coming home. You’re never gonna get a job now.” So he got a job five days after he came home, put all of his Army stuff in a chest, married his wife within a year, and he never looked back. And he just bottled up World War II and for the next 50 or 60 years never wore a veteran hat, never put a license plate on his car that said Purple Heart. He went incognito and tried to put the war behind him.

Brett McKay: He didn’t even get a homecoming.

Adam Makos: No, he came home-

Brett McKay: He was a hero. This guy did some of the most amazing things there.

Adam Makos: Yeah, he came home to an empty train station and empty streets and just walked up to the door and knocked on his parents’ door and walked inside.

Brett McKay: You mentioned Gustav and Clarence. They cross paths in Cologne. But they didn’t know each other were in the tanks. But they cross paths again, this time as old men. How did that happen? What was the connection there?

Adam Makos: When I sat down with Clarence that first day, he starts bombarding me with … I had to pull the stories out of him, but he’s bombarding me with these golden nuggets. Wait a second, you fought at the Nazi Fort Knox as they called Paderborn. Wait a second, you knocked out two tanks in Cologne. Wait a second, you shivered through the Battle of the Bulge when you have Tiger tanks driving in front of you and you’re hiding in the woods. I’m like, wait a second. And then he says, “Oh yeah, and I’m in touch with the German I fought against. His name’s Gustav Schaefer, and I’m thinking about meeting him in the spring.” I said, “Oh my gosh, this is a chance to tell it from both sides.” What are the odds? What are the odds that Clarence, who was one of the last four men from his company … You’re talking a 200-man company, there’s four left. Gustav is the last survivor of 160. We’re talking 70 some years later. What are the odds that this is actually gonna happen?

And I got to tag along with him. Went back to Cologne March 2013 and watched as Gustav approached from one end of the Cathedral Square. Clarence approached from the other. The big American in the gray Army jacket. The little German in the black trench coat. And you get to see these two enemies shake hands. And Clarence leaned to him, and he said, “The war is over, we can be friends now.” And Gustav said, “Yah, yah. Gut.” And they actually went back to the hotel. They both got these Kolsch beers, amazing beer in Cologne, and they started telling stories. They started cracking jokes. They had the same sense of humor. Clarence said, “Did your tank have a refrigerator in it?” ‘Cause Clarence said, “Because ours did.” Which is a total lie. And Gustav said, “Yah, yah, ours did too only in wintertime.”

Brett McKay: Like, did they have a bathroom?

Adam Makos: Yeah. Clarence said, “Does yours have a toilet ’cause ours did.” And Gustav said, “Of course it did.” He said, “In the shell holes.” Empty shell casings, I’m sorry. In the shell casings. God, I butchered that.

Then we find out that Gustav’s favorite hobby is Google Earth. He’s 90 years old, and his favorite thing is to surf the world from his computer ’cause he lived alone. His wife had died. He said, “Clarence,” he’d already stalked Clarence. He said, “Clarence, what is that silver car that’s out in front of your house I see every day?” And Clarence, “Oh, it’s a Dodge,” this or that. And Gustav said, “I can only see so far with my satellite. What is it like inside your house?”

And these two came away as buddies. They went back to the place they fought, they told their stories. This is where our tank was, this was where yours was. This is what I was thinking. This is why I was trying to kill you. And they came away as pals. Exchanging Christmas cards. They’re pen pals, exchanging letters. And yes, they even talked on the computer. They would do Skype together. Clarence on a laptop, Gustav on a desktop. Two enemies, 5,000 miles apart, 70 years after the fact looking at each and saying, “How are you doing? How was your day?”

Brett McKay: You mentioned Clarence bottled this up after the war. Didn’t talk about it. Was this moment, this exchange with Gustav, was it therapeutic for him? Was it something that he needed to do to fight those demons that he had?

Adam Makos: He really did. He had no one to talk to. And for some veterans, talking about it is a way to release it. There’s a couple ways to deal with trauma and stress. One is to be able to talk about it. Another is to go back to where it happened and to reframe what had happened. It’s like any phobia. If you’re afraid of heights, you gotta work at trying to get yourself up somewhere high. For these guys their trauma was that intersection, that place where they had exchanged bullets. Those streets of Cologne. So he went back to the place of his trauma and the place of his nightmares, and he stood there with his enemy side by side, and they talked through what had happened. And he came home, he used to have nightmares, he used to have all the night tremors, and suddenly he’s able to sleep a full night. Suddenly he’s able to talk about the war. Suddenly he’s able to tell his stories to me.

Brett McKay: It took 70 years for that to happen. Adam, as you get to work with Clarence … Clarence is still alive. You actually, part of the book tour … Tell us about that ’cause I thought this was really fun. You were telling me about … he’s 95?

Adam Makos: 95 years old going strong.

Brett McKay: In Pennsylvania, you made Clarence part of the book tour. Tell us about that ’cause that’s a lot of fun.

Adam Makos: Clarence has given me so much over six years I’ve worked with him. Four years researching, two years actually writing the book. I thought, “How can I give back to a guy that has given me everything? His stories and his memories and gone back to the battle.” I know what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna bring a Sherman tank to his first book signing. And so Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Midtown Scholar Bookstore, Sherman tank comes up from Gettysburg and parks in front of the store. Clarence is able to stand there, and he’s tapping the old gun barrel with his cane. Then we’re like, “Let’s double down on this.”

Clarence is up in Boston. He’s going to the USS Constitution Museum for a book signing. He’s expecting an Uber to take him to the signing. Rob Collings at the American Heritage Museum, I called him up, I said, “I need your Sherman tank.” And Rob brought it in. Clarence walks out of the Residence Inn, and there’s a Sherman tank, not an Uber. And he gets on back and he climbs into the turret and we got the Boston police to clear the way. We got an Honor Guard from the Army and hundreds of people lined the streets, waving little American flags as he drove through Boston to his book signing on the back of a Sherman tank. And then we decided, “Let’s just surprise the heck out of him.”

Now he knows that these Sherman tanks come. We’re gonna wait till he goes home to Allentown. And he’s in his row house and he’s just unwinding from the book tour. Now he never got a homecoming. Let’s give him a homecoming in his hometown, and let’s surprise him in a way he’s never gonna understand. He hears a sound at 10:00 in the morning. He tells his daughter, “That sounds like a Sherman tank.” She’s like, “Dad, you’re crazy. This is Allentown.” These narrow streets, and the cops even had to clear some of the junky cars off the street. They had to tow some of them ’cause it was kind of a rough neighborhood.

Sure enough, we had a Sherman tank come down the street, Clarence opens the door, he steps out. There’s a 33 ton tank idling in front of his doorstep. There is the Honor Guard from the city of Allentown police. There are 75 of his neighbors trampling the other neighbors’ yards just to get a glimpse of him. And he climbs on for that parade through his town where 200 people were waiting at his VFW to give him a true homecoming. That homecoming he never got 75 years ago.

Brett McKay: What I love about this book is you have all these other subplots going on that we didn’t talk about that add to the story, the richness of the story. But I’m curious, after all your time working on this book and interacting with Clarence, what’s been your big takeaway? How has this book changed you as a writer?

Adam Makos: I think one thing I always say about the guys that I write about, I call them the anti-Kardashians. Because it kinda sickens me to have a society where it’s okay now to say, “This is how rich I am. And look how hot I am. And look where I am and you’re not. I’m on a private jet and you’re slumming it.” It’s this rub it in your face attitude that’s just disgusting.

You look at this generation who went away to war, left their homes and went away sometimes for two years and then you see a guy like Clarence, who saddles up in this tank, and he’s gonna lead the way. And he knows the Germans have their cross hairs set on the road he’s about to go down. He knows the only way he’s gonna live through the day is if he can turn the tables on them somehow. If he can get the first shot off. Even though their gun is already waiting for him.

You see this guy who was willing to die for his country, who’s willing to die for the people behind him. And you say this is the ultimate unselfishness. This is the ultimate generosity. This is the ultimate love. And it’s the antidote to everything wrong in our society. It happened all those years ago, and we can’t afford to forget it.

He’s changed the way I look at life. I kick myself sometimes when I do that stupid stuff on Instagram. He’s changing me. I hope his story will open eyes and make people say, “My God, we had the best warriors in the world. We had the best tankers in the world, and thank God we had Clarence Smoyer.”

Brett McKay: Well, Adam this has been a great conversation. Thanks so much for your time.

Adam Makos: Gosh, Brett, it’s been great to be part of the Art of Manliness family this long. Thanks to Magic City Books for having us. Thank you to everybody out there who’s reading these books and celebrating these heroes with us. It’s a team effort. We’re all on the same team. We’re trying to see that these men are not forgotten.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Adam Makos. He’s the author of the book, Spearhead. It’s available on and bookstores everywhere. You can find out more information about his work at Also, check out our show notes at Refine links to resources where we’ll delve deeper into this topic.

Well, that wraps up another edition of the AOM podcast. Check out our website,, where you can find all of our podcast archives. There’s over 490 there. And you can also see the thousands of articles written over the years on everything from personal finance, fitness, relationships, how to be a better husband, better father, you name it, we’ve got it.

If you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher. It helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing this show with a friend or family member who you think will get something out of it. As always, thank you for your continued support and until next time, this is Brett McKay reminding you not only listen to the AOM podcast, but put what you’ve heard into action.


Related Posts