A shot fired, a World War II soldier's remorse



Clarence Smoyer, now 94, was a gunner with the U.S. Army’s 3rd Armored Division who’d come ashore in Normandy three weeks after D-Day, criss-crossed France and Belgium, and in March of 1945 fought to capture the German city of Cologne. There, during a firefight with a German tank, a car rounded a corner and was hit. Katharina Esser, a young girl, was wounded and later died. For years, Smoyer has played that scene (which was caught on film by an Army photographer) over and over, wondering if his shot killed Katharina. Seth Doane traveled with Smoyer to Cologne to revisit the site of the World War II battle, to meet with Katharina’s relatives as well as the German soldier who was on the other side of that firefight. Doane also talks with Adam Makos, author of the book “Spearhead,” about Smoyer’s mission.

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47 comments

  1. This is heartbreaking story. I think this man is a role model. He did what he had to do in very difficult times and he cannot be blamed for what happened. I hope he found peace. From Germany.

  2. Poor man… Putin should watch this!! And make him think twice about his actions .also other leaders who have the same ideas that war is the key to the solve worlds problems..

  3. Hitler told them to fight till the bitter end for nothing while Jews were also being murdered for nothing till the last second of the end of the war.

  4. Out of the roughest rocks and filthiest dirt…sometimes…you get the most resilient stems of beautiful flowers.

  5. Easy for me to say, but you have nothing to be sorry about. Collateral damage, to be sure, but you did your duty and by doing this probably saved your life and the lives of your fellow soldiers. My grandfather was a medic in the war and after seeing many of his fellow troops killed in march, 1945, so close to the end, his heart hardened. He wouldno longer treat german pow's, even if they were wounded and he had spare medical supplies. When his unit ( 45th infantry division ) liberated daucau, he was beyond feeling anything for any german soldier or civilian. His heart turned to stone and regarded all germans as animals. He was plagued by nightmares and lost himself in drink before dying. He was three times wounded exposing himself to save fallen soldiers, and won the silver star for heroism as well.

  6. It was war Mr. Smoyer. It wasn't your fault, please forgive yourself. Thank you endlessly for your service and may God bless you always!!!!! 🇺🇸

  7. I am an eighty year old veteran, I once heard a philosopher say " a person is smart, people are stupid"! To me that sums up all the reasoning for ALL wars!!!

  8. Glad she has a grave. Apparently the machine gunner in the Panther also felt he could have been responsible.

  9. These men are heroes. I just think of all the sacrifices made by Clarence Smoyer and others to keep us free and It irks me every time I see some ungrateful athlete kneeling or walking out on our national anthem.

  10. they left her behind….I read that after they left her laying on the floor next to the car, she was squashed by an allied tank who passed later..this is just dreadfull to know

  11. I think that a tank after a while passed over the car abd the woman as the batle continued

  12. This is a moving and touching story, and important. We need to remember history. This was a famous tank fight in the ending days of WW2 in March 1945. The backdrop was the fight between a Sherman and new Pershing versus a Panther.

    The Sherman was relatively poeerless against the Panther but the Pershing was the first new US Army tank on equal footing with Tigers and Panthers. The tank footage was famous but it wasn’t until a few years ago that the footage of the young woman Kathirina Esse was taken out of archives and that brought out new research, memories and reconnections. Her sister Anna recognized Kathi. A documentary was made and historian Alex Makos wrote a book and brought former enemies in touch. It’s an amazing story and while truly sad and tragic, it is important we remember them. Kathi could have survived. The war was days from ending so it makes you think about the what ifs?

    Here is an excerpt from the doc on the tank battle and Kathirina Esse. You can watch it in full on Apple, Prime, etc Its called “March 1945 Duel at the Cathedral”

    https://youtu.be/FFU4q2KkVmA

  13. It's a famous scene you will often see when searching for 'Battel of Cologne' a civian car driving through the lines and coming into a crossfire from both sides, the drivers was killed instantly, the young women was a passenger and got injured severely.
    As far as a saw somewhere the women might not have been killed by the shot. I have heard another tank was accidentally driving over her after the fighting became more intense again.

    I don't know why they had the stupid idea of driving around in a car during the fight, everything that's moving will become a target.

  14. 1:57: Someone fires in the back of the car and bullets ricochets upward. She is hit in the back by something travelling in a upward motion.

  15. I saw a documentary on this same story and it's clear that she made a bad decision to try and get out of Cologne so she could get to her boyfriend in another town. She talked her boss into driving her out of town putting him in danger too. He was killed instantly. Note to self, never try to drive your car through the middle of a tank battle.

  16. Thank you for your service Mr. Smoyer. My father was there with you. 3rd Armored, 32 AR, 3rd Bat, HQ Company. Was thrilled to read about your service in Spearhead.

  17. My mother was in Nederland in the middle of opperation Garden market auther naming the people in the book she knew from school.

  18. My Grandfather told me the worst thing about the WW2 was seeing innocent civilians suffer – especially women and children.

  19. my father was a royal marine commando in ww2 and when ever a war time conversation would come up with anyone about ww2 his words would be you do not know what war means

  20. I just finished the book and my eyes were wet at the end.

    My Mum's brother was a tank commander in north Africa, a bomb from a JU87 went under the tank blowing him up and out killing his friends.
    He was MIA to his family for 6 months.
    He came home gave his medals to my Mum and never talked about it.

    every night it returned to him, the horror of war

    His youth was taken and with age he suffered so much

  21. One of the most touching stories I’ve seen. In the horrors of war, there’s only the people who initiate the war who are at fault, not the heroes trying to end it.

  22. PTSD is the mind's natural response to the trauma of war. Only the pathological mind can avoid the "haunting" of the past.

  23. I wish we could see more stories like this made public – the media seems so interested in making everyone seem like heartless goons

  24. You know the war coming back to that man isn't a good thing,that war was really dirty and nasty the things that they had to do it's not like today but thank you sir for defending us

  25. I just finished reading Adam Makos' book "Spearhead" and the final chapter features Clarence Smoyer's and his battle with PTSD from the 1945 Battle in Cologne, Germany..

  26. They refused to mention that she, while lying beside the car, was run over by a fleeing M4 Sherman tank using the sidewalk for cover after the battle resumed with a German counterattack. There was little left and YouTube censors the video that explains that, with verification by her sister.

    The M4's view of Katarina on the sidewalk would have been blocked by the open car doors. They would have had no reason to think wounded people could be lying there and not already moved to safety by medics

    He, the Pershing commander, probably did shoot her because he admitted decades ago he thought it was a camouflaged military car and civilians wouldn't be considered likely to flee like that. Odds are, if the counterattack incident was more than an hour later, she would have already died from that chest wound.

    However, the German tanker he was fighting says he was shooting at the time in the line of fire the car's shopkeeper driver crazily drove into and the fleeing American M4 Shermsn commander decades later said "we would have accidentally run over Eisenhower himself trying to get out of there."

    So there's regret all around. 🙁

    Fraulein Esser's employer should not have taken her on that crazy ride that got himself instantly killed.

    If she had had stayed in the basement of the shop, she still could have been killed because US soldiers would drop hand grenades into basements if they'd been tricked into ambushes clearing other basements recently.

  27. Taking life in war isnt an exception even if people tell you it is because it was in a war. (Especially people who've never committed that act themselves) its taking a life and for any normal person it will stick with you. Doesn't have to make you sad or mad or even bothered but it sticks with you and you think about those people from time to time for the rest of your life. And in his case it was an innocent woman caught in the crossfire. But a true good soul will carry these people in their hearts in honor of a lose that never should have happened.

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