Monday, May 27, 2019

Take Action - Lehighton Memorial Day 2019

I would like to thank the UVO, both current and former, who continue to serve their country and their community (men like Charlie Uhler and Carlos Teets who are no longer with us)…to my Dad who survived Korea, now in the home, who used to help out…
USAF Major General Jay Barry (retired) holds the Navy service flag.  He accepted the Navy flag to have his fellow "flyboy" UVO member have the honors of the Air Force flag, though he would have been right to pull rank had he wanted to, at least, that's how I see it.

Though I never served, I grew up with a deep respect for men like these.  

I’d also like to thank the UVO’s generosity with donating funds to pay for the flowers the children will strew on the graves later.  They continued the work of the Operation Never Forget Club.  With any luck, I hope to get that club up and running once again.

Lehighton UVO salautes at Weissport Park
Services at Union Hill Cemetery - Steve Ebbert speaker
Honoring the Lost at Sea - Wreath into Lehigh River
Wreath Floats Away
"Faith of Our Fathers" - Lehighton Band + Lehighton Boys & Girls Band

~ Photo courtesy of Laura Foeller ~
Today is a glorious day.

We have the sun on our face, clouds to keep us cool, the wind at our backs, dew on our feet, and joy in our hearts.

We are here to remember those who paid for our freedom.
Your presence today is an action that shows your devotion.

They took action to secure our freedom. 
This is a day to refresh and renew. 
Let us take a fresh look upon a grave with renewed interest.

Let us take action to remember those who showed their love by giving their time and devotion.

Let’s make a mental picture of what devotion looks like:
Use your mind’s eye right now, remember what you see…
Mayor Ritter and the Poppy Queen enjoy the shade before the program began.

When you look at the Tomb of the Unknown,
When you look out at the rolling Hills of Arlington,
When you see the low country of Luxemburg, the sandy bluffs of Cambridge, and the beach front cemetery of Normandy,
When you cast your eye across the sea of white crosses, each one, representing its own story of devotion to our country. 

That is love.
Carol Kimmel Ritter shows me the aluminum
bracelet her father Bob made for members of
his family.  This one he made for his wife.  He
made a matching one for himself that he and
his wife wore.  The metal came from a
Japanese zero that crashed into Bob's destroyer
escort ship he served on during WWII.
Bob Kimmel and my Uncle Robert
Haas were the best of friends, having
coffee with each other everyday, several
times a day, like clockwork.  Carol
recently shared this story with me when I
visited with her and Mayor Ritter this week.
I was so glad she flagged me down to show
me such an important family memento.
I’d like to share a few stories about love and devotion.
I’d like to start with a few living and a few who have died securing the freedoms we love.

Let’s start with Major Pete Semanoff who is stationed in Texas.  He’s earned two bronze stars for tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But he took action as a young boy too.  He devoted himself to get to know Clarence Smoyer. 

And because of this, a book was written about Smoyer that is a national best-seller. 
Mayor Clark Ritter greets Clarence Smoyer, Lehighton native and subject
of Adam Makos book entitled Spearhead.

And now Smoyer’s story of love and devotion to country is known.

Pete’s Dad is Gene Willard Semanoff.

Gene is named after two uncles, both of them KIA during WWII.

Gene’s mother’s brother, Willard Reabold, of Hacklebernie, died in the Battle of the Bulge.

Gene’s father’s brother, George “Gene,” was killed at Saipan while honoring his commitment to bring someone home.

That someone was Samuel Kutalek of Nesquehoning. 

Samuel Kutalek enlisted the very day Hitler invaded Poland, September 1st, 1939.  He was sent to the Philippines. 

He was captured. 
Sam Kutalek took action as soon
as he heard of Hitler's invasion of Poland.

And there he was marched at the point of a Japanese boynet, during the infamous Bataan Death March.  And unknown to his parents, he had survived.

But they did not know this. 

He was reported missing for over a year. 

When they learned he was alive, Sam’s brother Paul and his best friend, Gene Semanoff, vowed to join the Marines, find Kutalek, and bring him home.

Both men, Paul and Gene, died honoring their vow, while Sam Kutalek was released and lived a long and happy life.
18 September 1945 - The announcement of
Sam Kutalek's release and the deaths of his brother
and George "Gene" Semanoff.

Clarence Smoyer and Joseph “Yzush” Sitarchyk were friends as young boys. 

These children of the Depression had it rough. 

Sitarchyk’s father died when Joseph was just 11. 

Joe’s father died while trying to keep his family warm.  

He had a wooden cart he’d push through the scrap woods along the river and the RR tracks near North First St.  The news accounts of that week described the early November cold snap we were having.  Wood he’d gather to keep his family warm. 

And one day he was hit by a car and killed.

Joseph grew up in want. 

He’d sometimes steal a can of soup from the store just to have something to eat.  (And according to Clarence, Joseph was well acquainted with more trouble as he got older…)
18 November 1935 - The Great Depression
made many of our "Greatest Generation" tougher,
but Joe Sitarchyk had a rough start, his family losing
their father so many in the family.  The Sitrachyk name
had the family name Harvilla attached to the end of it.
Joe and his brother John Sitarchyk dropped that
part of their name, however the paper only printed

Smoyer added meat to his diet by shooting bullfrogs with his BB gun and roasting their legs over a fire along the Mahoning Creek.  These tough times made tough men.

Joseph joined the Army Rangers and was dropped in at Anzio. 
In the ensuing battle at Cisterna, of the 1,200 men, only 9 escaped unwounded and uncaptured. 

Sitarchyk and five other men found refuge under a bridge and vowed to survive. 

They swore allegiance and famously signed a dollar bill together.

Many who survive such terrible ordeals live with memories that cannot be shaken.

Some take these memories into further actions to help others. 

By sharing his story, Smoyer has given us a look into the heart of a humble and devoted warrior. 
This is a picture of Joe Sitarchyk taken by Pete
Semanoff in his 30 interviews of area veterans
for his 1994 Eagle Scout Project.  We are lucky
Pete took the time to document their stories, otherwise
many of them would have been lost to time.  Joe
passed away in 2002.

Not one who wanted to kill for malice. 

But someone who killed to protect and defend his family he loved so dearly, the family who drove inside his sardine can on tracks. 

Smoyer was driven to perfection out of loyalty to them.

When Michael Wargo survived Afghanistan, he came home with many terrible memories he couldn’t shake. 

We are lucky to have men and women like these. 

They took action, they served, they fought, and too many died, securing our freedoms.

As a youth, Smoyer and his friends
had a hut near Heilman's Dam on
the Mahoning.  They'd shoot bullfrogs
with their BB guns and eat the frogs
legs over a campfire.

Nothing is free.
You have nothing that wasn’t first given to you.

We get, we give.
They gave all. 

What do you have to give?

Take action.  All of you.  You must.
Visit the Michael Wargo Memorial today and renew your sense of devotion to country and to those who are gone.

Renew your love and devotion for family, for country, for those brave men and women.

America must always have a giving heart filled with love and devotion.

Today is a Glorious Day.

We have the sun on our face, we have clouds to keep us cool, the wind at our backs, dew on our feet, and joy in our hearts.

We are here to remember those who paid for our freedom.
After the ceremonies, the UVO and the Lehighton Legion Post #314 host a free community lunch.  This is a vital
part of the day, where veterans can assemble and relate stories and friendship with each other.  Here WWII tank gunner Clarence Smoyer meets Larry Ahner of Lehighton who served in an Abrams tank and later, with the Guard, was assigned to high-valued prisoners in Iraq, including the supervision of our #1 prisoner there: Saddam Hussein.  Ahner had command and control of Hussein for many months in Iraq, holding him inside a prison cell we constructed in one of his palaces.  Ahner had daily contact with the despot, the "Butcher of Baghdad."

This I found as a PowerPoint slide from a presentation someone posted on the internet.  I would really hope the person
who knows more about this story would contact me at my home email or on Facebook.  Joe Sitarchyk was from Lehighton.
I cannot determine more about this story and hope somehow someone could put us in touch with someone who does because this is an important human story that we in Lehighton would be fortunate to know more about.

Fifth grade students came to the cemetery Thursday night 5/23 to do a Veterans Walk.  Then they assisted the UVO and scout groups in decorating veteran graves with over 1,000 flags in prepartion for Memorial Day Services.

Members of the Lehighton UVO escort Clarence to his seat at the Lehighton Meet and Greet held for him on Wednesday 5/22/19.

Peter Sitarchyk Harvilla's death certificate from November 1935 -It was a colder than normal Great Depression November when Pete was killed pusing his firewood wagon on North First St in front of the old Jamestown Hotel that burned downed years ago.  Today it is a vacant lot.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Cpl Clarence Smoyer receives Medaille de la Legion d'Honneur

Lehighton native and subject of Spearhead, Clarence Smoyer, received one of France’s highest honors: the Medaille de la Legion d’Honneur on Saturday, May 11, 2019 at the French Consular Agency of France in Philadelphia.  The medal was presented by Michael Scullin, Honorary Consul of France.

Medal ceremony at French Consulate of Philadelphia - May 11, 2019 - Clarence Smoyer with Sam Semanoff and his daughter Cynthia Beurvenich. Jack Semanoff, Evelyn Semanoff and Gene Willard Semanoff are behind Kenneth Wong in yellow tie.  Michael Scullin, Staff Sgt Kesterman of 1st Armored, and Ron Rabenold.  Wong, the Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army of Pennsylvania and former President George W. Bush's Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, along with Peter Semanoff, were instrumental in working with France to secure this honor for Smoyer.

The honor was established by Napolean in 1802.  Consul Scullin spoke of the 60,000 Americans who died on French soil and reminded the gathered friends and family of Smoyer of the close bond between America and France.

Clarence recieved the distinction of Chevalier (knight.)

“Our two countries standing for the universal principles of liberty, tolerance, and equal rights,” Scullin said.

"And though we fought alongside one another through many hardships starting back in our American Revolution, we have never lost that special bond between our nations."

“Mr. Smoyer, your contributions to the liberation of France are examples of what an individual can bring to the relationship between America and Europe.  Your accomplishments and sacrifices have been great,” Scullin said.

Malcolm “Buck” Marsh (36th Infantry Regiment) had this to say about Smoyer and the M26 Pershing tank crew after the battle at Paderborn:

          “We were so fortunate that the M26 was here with their 90 mm gun, manned by that veteran crew.  The Sherman would not have had any chance against the Panther.”
 “The worst thing is the German tanks would have had free access to that road, the houses, and that switching station.  We essentially were trapped there and they would have blown those buildings to pieces and killed all of us in there.”

Smoyer listens as Scullin reads from his detailed notes.
     “That tank gunner’s quick action (Smoyer) saved our whole damn company…over 100 infantry could have died there.”

Scullin went on, “In the name of France…I bestow upon you the insignia of Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur.”

He then gave Clarence the traditional French two-cheek kiss.

Clarence presented Scullin with an autographed copy of his book and a map of the 3rd Armored movements through France as a token of his appreciation to the government for France.
Scullin looks at the map Smoyer presented to him.

Upon receiving the medal, when asked if he had anything to say, ever humble Clarence politely waved his hand.


The entire story and the book release has been a non-stop ride for Clarence.  Here he is in February of this year, all smiles, after a surprise Sherman tank ride around the block for a parade and ceremony at his neighborhood VFW.  Behind Clarence is another surviving member of the 3rd Armored Joe Caserta also depicted in Spearhead.

The car ride to Philadelphia brought out some new stories from Clarence. 

“For some reason “Big Mal” (James Mallet) loved to want to wrestle me.”

Mallet was the crew’s gunner from Normandy to about the battle at Mons, Belgium.  Clarence was Mal’s loader.

“The reason it was so odd to me was that I always could get him tangled up in my long legs,” Clarence went on.  “I guess Mal kept wanting another chance at me.”
Clarence Smoyer was born in Parryville, raised on
Bankway Lehighton, and went to 10th grade
before dropping out of school to work in a cabinet
shop where his two older brothers worked, to help
support their family.

But Big Mal had another strange way of handling the stress and the occasional boredom between fights. 

Big Mal and Homer "Smokey" Davis, another member of the Eagle tank, had a running competition.

They used to like to pretend to hold old fashioned duels with each other.  

Smokey used to have a German Luger tucked under his left arm in a shoulder holster along with his Government 1911 Colt .45 semi-auto on his right hip. 

Both Smokey and Mal would be sure to discharge their clips and clear the chamber of their army issued guns.  

Then they’d stand back to back and pace off the steps, turn and blank fire.  The rest of the crew would judge who they thought won.

Well for some reason, on this one particular occasion, just at the peak of the turn, instead of reaching for his hip, Smokey did a quick draw from under his arm.   

The crew stood and gapped when instead of hearing the light click of a firing pin into an empty chamber, they heard the crack of the Luger and saw Big Mal fall to the ground.  

Big Mal eventually recovered from a shot in the groin and returned to the crew. 
Clarence could not recall how they reported that one up the command.

It was around mid-August 1944 when Mallet was promoted to tank commander of another Sherman.  The crew had just finished an engagement at the Falaise Gap in France.  As Mallet left, unbeknownst to Clarence, he highly recommended Clarence the gunner’s job. 
Smoyer, Wong and Kesterman share a story after the ceremony.

As Clarence wrote back in 2010: “Being a gunner was considered a major promotion and normally would involve someone who had special training and the right temperament…In my case, I was completely unproven.”

Mallet said, “I taught Smoyer all he knows.” 

“Suddenly I was a gunner, even after I told him that I didn’t want to be,” Smoyer said.
The reason Mal had so much faith in Clarence is simple.  

Back on the English seacoast, the two shared a pup tent together.  One day they had a gunnery competition and the loaders got a chance to shoot against each other, in the event that they needed to jump in the gunner’s seat during battle.

The table-size targets were set on dunes 1,000 yards away.  “To everyone’s surprise, including my own, I hit the target all eight times and had the highest score.”

Of course Clarence proved himself again and again as an instinctual gunner.  He remembers Homer Davis telling him how little room he had under the tank that his nose scraped against the bottom while he laid on his back, trying desperately to re-enter the tank as it was pulling out under fire at Paderborn.  

The whole crew had to abandoned the tank after it was hit.  They eventually re-entered while under intense fire through the escape hatch below.  The driver began pulling out while Davis was still underneath, trying desperately to get in.

“I was from a German family and killing Germans did not appeal to me at the time.  I knew it was war and I would have to deal with that, but it was better to put off that hard reality.”

Anyone who talks to Clarence knows the man’s kind heart.  When I asked him if he ever hunted, he said he tried rabbit hunting, but never “really had the heart for it.”
Smoyer in 1938.

But he did tell me of his days playing around Heilman’s Dam on the Mahoning Creek.  He and his Bankway friends had built a hut from old wood from the ice house and the old munitions plant.  (Today this would be down the bank from the Boulevard Drive-In and the WWI munitions plant was behind Mahoning Court.)

He and his friends would shoot bullfrogs with their BB guns and cook the legs over an open fire.  Many times this was the only meat the boys had during those Depression years.

Clarence’s success as a gunner could be traced to those times.  For tankers, getting in the first shot was critical.  Seventy percent of tank duels were won by the tank getting off the first shot. 

It was instinctual for Clarence.  Not from the standpoint of killing but rather for protecting.  Clarence above all knew that the lives of the four other guys in his tank depended on him.  If he missed the first shot, the Germans would win the second.  If he didn’t see them first, they would get the first shot.  

He wanted to protect his war family and his sardine can on tracks that carried them in war.

As they penetrated into Germany, the tip of the Spear, the first American tanks to penetrate the “Fortress City” of Cologne, Clarence knew he simply could not miss, he told himself that repeatedly, “just don’t miss.”  It’s what made him so good.

Today, Clarence is only one of three men left surviving his old company.  Even his enemy and who eventually became a friend, Gustav Schaeffer, is gone.

Clarence saw too many of his close “family” from his unit die in combat.  Something he rarely likes to discuss now. 
Two young French interns who just joined the consulate
for the summer.  Betty Beraud in glasses set up the ceremony.
It was at Mons when his tank commander Paul Faircloth was killed.  Clarence’s Easy company was pinned down all day from mortar fire when one of their armored cars was hit.

Tank commander Faircloth instantly jumped from their tank to assist the men who were badly hurt and screaming.  

Just as Clarence stuck his head out the side of the tank, he witnessed two mortars explode beside his friend, blowing his foot and ankle off.  Two medics examined him.  They told Clarence Paul had died instantly.

Claence himself earned a Purple Heart, though he was wounded three separate times: by shrapnel, a bad burn, and a concussion that he still feels the effects from today.  In those days, the army did not recognize concussions as medal worthy injuries.

Clarence’s assistant gunner, John “Johnny Boy” Deriggi was wounded and sent home sometime after the battle of Cologne.  He passed away in October 2005. 

Although Phil Deriggi only survived his brother by a few months (January 2006 of lung cancer), he had the fortitude to create this web tribute to his brother “Johnny Boy” (

You could say, Clarence’s story would have faded into obscurity had it not be for a number of happenstances.  We may have never known about the “Hero of Cologne” if it wasn’t for the army footage of his duel in front of the cathedral shot by Jim Bates of the signal corps.

It was after seeing that footage for the first time in the late 1980s that led Clarence to seek some resolution to a story he rarely spoke about. 

Then there was a young man, from a Lehighton family steeped in military tradition, named Pete Semanoff who sought out 30 Lehighton area WWII veterans to capture their stories for his Eagle Scout Project.  Clarence was one of those interviewed. 
At the time a Captain, Major Pete Semanoff
came back to his old school to address
the students on Memorial Day 2013.
For a story about how Pete and Clarence
met, click here.

When Semanoff went to college, he met and befriended the entire Makos family, another family steeped in military service.  It was on Pete’s prompting that led Makos to meet Clarence and write the best-selling book.

Then in 2008 Clarence found the radio operator in the German MK4 that Clarence disabled in Cologne.  He saw a German program featuring one of the two who escaped alive from the tank named Gustav Schaeffer.

The memory of his firefight with Schaeffer’s tank and the horror of perhaps firing the fatal shot that killed the civilian Katharina Esser haunted Clarence.

But when he met Gustav for the first time in person in front of the Cologne Cathedral, Clarence said, “The war is over, I guess we can be friends now.”  It was Gustav that made Clarence realize that neither of them killed Esser. 

It was the war and the war alone that did that.  The war made them enemies.  It was the war that called Gustav to defend the city and it was Clarence’s duty to take it to defeat the aggressor Germany.  Esser, a store clerk, and her boss had no reason to be there.  They should have known to continue to shelter in place, Gustav related.

But it was at Paderborn where Clarence really saved the day as previously mentioned by Buck Marsh.  For more on that, you must read Adam Makos’ Spearhead.

War takes away our nation's youth.  It took youthful Faircloth and so many others away from their families too soon.  
Eagle Tank Commander Paul Faircloth.

For Clarence, these men continue to live in his memories, forever in the youthfulness of long ago.



Major General Maurice Rose was the highest-ranking American officer killed in the war.  He was Clarence’s commander and was killed in an ambush on his way into Paderborn, just a mile away from Clarence who was not in position to do anything about it.  

The Semanoff’s are a military family.  Eldest Jack served in the Army after high school.  Allison is a doctor with the Army and graduated from West Point.  Major Pete Semanoff is stationed in Texas.  Their father, Gene Willard Semanoff served in minuteman missile silos in Montana during the Vietnam War for the Air Force. 

Gene Semanoff was named after his dad Joseph’s brother who was killed in WWII.  His middle name Willard came from his mother’s brother who received the Silver Star.  Willard was in the 94th Division.  He was killed following the breakout after being surrounded during the Battle of the Bulge, crossing the Siegfried Line.  He destroyed two machine gun nests with grenades and died attacking the third.

E5 Sergeant George “Gene” Semanoff died in Saipan with the 4th Marine Division.  He was killed on Saipan.  His body was brought to the Nesquehoning Orthodox Cemetery for re-interment in May 1948.

Gene’s father Joseph Semanoff was a member of 101st Screaming Eagles and was wounded in action.  Joe later became Carbon’s State Representative.

Willard Reabold's grave in Luxemborg.

May 1948 - George "Gene" Semanoff's body returns to Carbon
County for internment in Nesquehoning.