Local author to hold book signing

Local author to hold book signing

From the memories of Clarence Smoyer to the pages of “Spearhead,” Adam Makos, formerly of Montoursville, brings the story of a curly-haired World War II tank gunner into the spotlight.

This Friday, Makos will have a book signing at Otto’s book store to debut his book “Spearhead.”

Makos, and his brother, Bryan, owe their fascinations with the past to their grandfathers, who both served in World War II and “took us to airshows and museums” and “built us plastic models of airplanes and tanks,” he said. This grew into Makos’ passion.

“My brother, our best friend, Joe Gohrs, and I were playing on our computer when we decided to create a homemade newsletter and become journalists,” Makos said. That newsletter eventually blossomed into “Valor,” a magazine that took Makos all over the world, got him in the seats of several war planes and even across from the President in the Oval Office, he said.

“Of all the stories I’d investigated in those 18 years, one had to become a book,” Makos said of the story that became “A Higher Call.” Before the book became an international bestseller, Makos was planting the seeds for “Spearhead,” his new book debuting Tuesday from Ballantine Books.

“Spearhead” details Smoyer’s and his tank platoon’s push through Europe into Germany, culminating in a climactic duel in Cologne, a journey that was fraught with death and destruction.

“But I nearly missed the chance to write this story,” he said, remembering his friend, Pete Semanoff, from Lycoming College in 2002.

Semanoff told Makos of a veteran from his hometown of Lehighton, who was “supposedly something of a legend,” said Makos. That man was Smoyer. Being primarily interested in aviation, Makos was hesitant about interviewing and possibly writing about Smoyer, a tank gunner, as he didn’t know much about armored warfare.

Additionally, popular culture wasn’t acquainted with tanks yet, Brad Pitt starring in “Fury” and the popularity of tank video games not having happened yet, Makos said. Smoyer’s interview got put on the backburner for six years until Makos and Semanoff reunited in Iraq, when Makos was a journalist in Semanoff’s company in Diyala Province, he said.

Through cigar smoke after a lengthy day of patrols, and with helicopters passing overhead, Smoyer popped back into Semanoff’s head, Makos said. Writing “A Higher Call” at the time, Makos again had to decline Semanoff’s offer. It was only after Semanoff’s wedding in Lehighton four years later that Makos reluctantly agreed to interview Smoyer.

“It was my friend’s wedding night, for crying out loud,” he said.

Sitting in Smoyer’s row house kitchen in Allentown, across from an 88-year-old “gentle giant,” as Makos often describes him, Makos realized Semanoff was right.

Not only had Smoyer been in an iconic tank fight in Cologne that could be an interesting story for Makos’ next book, but Smoyer also found and became friends with Gustav, “the young German gunner sent on a suicide mission to stop (Smoyer),” Makos said.

“When we realize there’s bravery on both sides, and some good people to be found on both sides, it really conveys the tragic nature of war,” Makos said.

Telling Smoyer’s story gave Makos the opportunity to accompany Smoyer on a trip to Cologne to meet Gustav, where the two talked about the battle they shared. The unlikely pair — Smoyer, a corporal leading the U.S. Army into its largest urban battle of the European war; and Gustav, a young German gunner sent out on a suicide mission to stop them — bonded like they had never looked down gun sights at each other, Makos said. Makos simply wants to give readers “a glimpse into World War II that they’ll never forget.”

Keeping history like this alive is important to Makos and hits close to home.

“I see the eyes of these veterans as they recount the stories of friends they lost,” said Makos.

He’s profoundly affected by the passing of soldiers barely 18, 19 or 21, as they didn’t get to live out the same decades their surviving friends, who continue to remember those who died, did, he said. Similarly, Makos’ high school friend Claire Gallagher passed away on TWA Flight 800, said Makos. Like those young soldiers, Gallagher will sadly not get to live through the decades her surviving peers will.

“Remembering the fallen is an important way to show gratitude for the lives we lead,” Makos said.

Makos is honored to be the voice for stories of the past. Had he not told Smoyer’s tension-filled, one-in-a-million story, “time would pass, the veterans would fade away and we might … never know what bravery went on inside those steel machines,” he said.

Makos will have a book signing for “Spearhead” at 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday at Otto Bookstore, 107 W. Fourth St.

“The hometown turnout has been breathtaking as it always fires me up to go dive into the writing of a new book,” he said, who promises that the three-hour signing time will mean a shorter waiting line.

“He’s always proud to bring his work home,” said Andrew Brum, of Otto Bookstore.

Makos is excited to greet his supporters and share Smoyer’s slice of history with the world.

“I’m proud that we can bring a forgotten chapter in World War II history to life,” said Makos.

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