Founder’s Note: The era surrounding World War II was a pivotal time for this country. Some say it’s when America reached her peak. We’re not sure. But whether it’s the markets, the people, the war or the politics… we know there’s a lot to learn from this chaotic time in our history. That’s why what you’ll read below is just the first in what will be a recurring theme in this column. We’ll study all angles of the era… and see just what it means to us today. We think you’ll be impressed.
On June 8, we met a hero.
The old man was under a tent, tucked away out of the sun.
He had a young girl under his arm, faint signs of lipstick on each of his cheeks and a hell of a smile on his lips.
We’d hardly guess he was a killer.
Time, as we all learn sooner or later, tends to round the edges. It turns the rough smooth.
As we put our hand in Clarence Smoyer’s hand, there was no sign of hate or anger.
Just the opposite. We’ve hardly ever met a more inviting smile.
But knowing what we know, we would never hold Clarence’s sins against him.
He’s no killer… He was a soldier. He did his duty. He fulfilled his mission.
The Killer Within
As a Spearhead gunner in WWII, Smoyer saw a lot of action. He had plenty of opportunities to hone his lethal skills.
More than once his uncanny ability to drop a far-off target saved the life of a fellow soldier.
But it’s not Smoyer’s battlefield heroics that make this Pennsylvania man somebody worth writing about. There are lots of war heroes, with lots of stories worth telling.
Smoyer is different.
His heroics span decades. We’d argue he’s still freeing souls today.
The man proves something that most folks will never understand.
As the gunner in a tank who was regularly charged with breaking the enemy’s line, Smoyer had a lot of foes. Somebody was always trying to take his head off.
One day in Cologne, the enemy in a nasty Panther tank just yards in front of him nearly succeeded.
The only thing that kept the fighter alive was his fast trigger finger. His fiery chunk of steel and explosives hit the German tank before its gunner could return the fateful favor.
His motto of “Shoot fast and shoot straight” paid off.
The Man Inside
As he tended to do, Smoyer kept a close eye on the tank he just destroyed. His soft heart wanted the machine destroyed, not the men inside.
His mind was at ease as he saw all but one of the tank’s occupants flee the scene. Some men, he figured, were better than none.
Decades went by, and the film running through Smoyer’s mind gave the men in that tank no more screen time than any of the other men that he treated to a similar fate.
But then, through an odd twist of events, the American got to meet his enemy.
In 2013, Smoyer flew to Germany to meet Gustav Schaefer, the gunner of that German tank.
They shook hands, looked eye to eye then tearfully hugged, just feet from where they were once determined to destroy each other.
Two killers… but no hate.
“I stuck my hand out. We shook hands,” Smoyer says, “and I said, ‘The war’s over. We can be friends.'”
That last line is huge.
It proves the immense power of something critical to our mind’s health.
A Killer’s Point of View
Smoyer and Schaefer could have remained enemies.
Nobody would hold it against either of these men if they lived their final years angry and bitter. Many of us remain spiteful over much smaller things.
But these men tapped into a powerful force – a force that many wrongly say comes only with age.
They used the correcting lens of perspective to see the situation for what it really was.
They became great friends, chatting often until Schaefer’s recent death.
Again, these men weren’t killers… They were soldiers.
And when the war was over, they were simply men. Once their job had ended, they had no reason to hate.
It’s an idea that’s easy to write about… but is much, much harder to practice.
When we met Smoyer, it was clear that he had no hard feelings against any of the soldiers who tried to kill him, no matter what they were ordered to fight for.
The deep-seated smile on his face and the creases on his cheeks that proved it was there often were evidence of a man who understood that every person has his own context.
The enemy was following orders just the same as the Americans.
The boys from Bavaria and Bremen wanted to return to their families just as badly as the boys from Ohio and Arkansas.
It takes a strong mind to understand the idea, especially given the horrors in and behind that war.
Smoyer somehow managed to do it.
Fortunately, most of us aren’t wrangling with the atrocities of war. We don’t have to forgive a man who pointed his tank at us.
And yet… we refuse to stand up and look around.
We waste the immense value of perspective.
We shut down our political enemies… because they want to serve this country and her people in a different way from us.
We don’t talk to our neighbor… because he thinks blue shutters are better than red.
Or we open our window and cuss at the driver who cut us off… without stopping to wonder why he’s in such a hurry.
Perhaps it is age that blesses us with the ability to see things from a different angle. Or perhaps it’s pain.
But we say it’s something much simpler.
We simply need to want it.
Money is great. Our health is vital. But if we truly want to live the very best life possible… if we want to be as successful as we can be… and if we want to wear out our cheeks with a smile that seems to last forever… then we must understand and accept why others do what they do.
Sometimes we must rise up for the best perspective.
Our hero did.
And, just as he did 77 years ago, he’s bringing others with him.
Note: We beg you to read more about Clarence Smoyer, his thoughts, his actions and his life. Adam Makos recently detailed it all in his new book, Spearhead. Our copy was signed by Smoyer and is one of our greatest treasures. Here’s a link.