It took nearly 75 years, but World War II veteran Clarence Smoyer, 95, finally received the Bronze Star Medal on Wednesday for his heroic actions that helped destroy a German tank and take the crucial city of Cologne.
Smoyer was a tank gunner with the famous "Eagle 7" M26 Pershing tank crew, which blew up a Nazi Panther tank that had killed several American soldiers on March 6, 1945.
His lieutenant told them, "'Gentlemen, I give you Cologne. Let's knock the hell out of it,' and we obliged," Smoyer told the Defense Department following the event at the National World War II Memorial in Washington.
An American military cameraman captured footage of Smoyer and his crew in action, and the video was seen around the world. Smoyer became known as the "Hero of Cologne." But a few days later he ran afoul of a minor disciplinary issue that cost him his medal.
"The day after we knocked the tank out, my friend and I were walking down the street," Smoyer told the Defense Department. " Everything was fine, no fighting anymore. But as we walked down the street, these two little kiddies come running out and they're saying 'Kaugummi! Kaugummi!' They wanted bubble gum."
"I tried to explain to them I didn't have anything. I pulled my pockets out to show them they were empty," Smoyer went on. "I took them by their hands and took them back to their mother. And then I turned around and started to walk away, and the MPs [Military Police] pull up alongside of me and ask for my name and rank. 'You're not supposed to be talking to the Germans,' they told me. I think that caused me to lose the Bronze Star."
Smoyer's tank commander and the cameraman who filmed the battle did receive Bronze Stars of their own.
Best-selling author Adam Makos wrote about Smoyer and his crew in the recent book "Spearhead." When he learned Smoyer had not been awarded the Bronze Star for his actions, he went on a mission to right what he saw as an injustice.
After the Army agreed to award Smoyer the Bronze Star, Makos brought him to Washington for what he said would be a book-signing event at the Pentagon.
As he stepped out of the car and saw the crowds gathered at Washington's World War II Memorial, Smoyer smiled broadly and asked, "Am I getting a Bronze Star?"
Smoyer received the Bronze Star surrounded by his friends and old World War II comrades.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., also attended the event in honor of Smoyer, who hails from Allentown.
Toomey posted a video of the event online Thursday.
"Yesterday, I was humbled to attend a ceremony for PA native & WWII veteran Clarence Smoyer & the members of Eagle 7," Toomey tweeted. "Now one of the most decorated tank crews in American history, I'm thrilled my office and I were able to assist in properly honoring these American heroes."
Bow gunner Homer Davis, driver William McVey, and loader John DeRiggi were posthumously recognized, the Pentagon said, and their families accepted Bronze Stars on their behalf.
"It's an honor. It is an honor, and I will always honor that. I'll do that in remembrance of all the young boys that were killed over there," Smoyer said.
The Bronze Star is awarded for "heroic or meritorious achievement or service."