Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Philip Selker - Battle of Normandy Veteran

Special thanks to Leo Selker for contributions to this blog post. 

Philip Selker was born April 25, 1907 in Montabauer, Westerwald, Germany.  He was the son of Karl Friedrich Selker.  Philip became a tailor by trade.  The custom in Germany was for the oldest son to carry on the trade of the father.  Philip had to take on the trade of tailor when his older brother died. 

Philip was old enough to vote for German President Paul von Hindenburg in the 1925 election.  At age 21 Philip made the decision to leave Germany and immigrate to the United States. Philip explained that he made the decision to come to the United States because it offered a better life and opportunities than Germany had to offer at the time. On February 8, 1929 the vessel S.S. Hamburg set sail from Hamburg, Germany.

The S.S. Hamburg was a German Ocean liner built by the Blohm & Voss Shipbuilders and owned by the Hamburg America Line. The ocean liner was 21,132 gross register tons and 635 feet long. The ship had space for 222 first class passengers, 471 second class passengers and 456 third class passengers. 

S.S. Hamburg 

On February 19, 1929 Philip arrived at Ellis Island in New York aboard the ship Hamburg.  He said the ocean voyage was terrible.  He shared a cabin for four.  He was terribly seasick and the weather was quite stormy.  The ships manifest recorded Philip as age 21, occupation of tailor. His birth location and last residence are recorded as Montabaur, Germany.  A brochure advertising the ships service in 1938 is available at this link

After being processed at Ellis Island Philip Stopped in Clarion, Pennsylvania where he had family. His uncle Joseph William Selker was living in Clarion with his family. He was the owner of J.W. Selker & Cigar.  On July 5, 1906 Joseph returned to his home town of Fuersteanau, Germany. He took his son Frederick William Selker with him. On his return he brought two of his nieces back with him. One was Philomena Selker, daughter of  Gerhardt Selker and Mary Agnes Rakers, the other was Johanna Anna Selker, daughter of Karl Friedrich Selker and Margarita Wolf.

The meeting in Clarion was the first between brother and sister. Johanna arrived  July 5, 1906  before Philip was born.  After spending some time in Clarion Philip went on to Chicago, IL

 In Chicago he lived with a cousin who had immigrated in 1923.  Philip worked as a tailor for Marshall Fields for several years and eventually rising to the status of master tailor.  Philip became a naturalized citizen on March 4, 1936 at the U.S. District Court in Chicago, IL.

On January 25, 1944 Philip enlisted in the United States Army. He was assigned to the Infantry. He landed at Omaha Beach on June 7, 1944 on the second day of the invasion of the Allied Forces.  The following reading is recommend to provide perspective on what it must have been like to arrive on June 7.  Omaha Beach was still in a critical state. The men arriving in the second wave were faced with the causalities of the day before.

“At Omaha Beach, the situation of the 1st and 29th American divisions, having landed at dawn of the previous day, is more critical. By June 7th, these divisions control only a small amount of territory; as such, the risk of being pushed off the beaches from German counter attack remains high. To the east, at Sword, Juno and Gold, the British and Canadians, while their landings were also difficult, are having an easier time of things. The Canadians remain in control of Anisy and Cainet, having fought off a major counter attack by the 21st Pz Division the day before. By end of day, the 6th Airborne Division have managed to take bridges on the Orne river and have linked up with elements of the British 3rd Infantry Division at Sword Beach.”

At Omaha, too, reinforcements began coming in to the beach before the sun rose above the horizon. Twenty-year-old Lt. Charles Stockell, a forward observer in the 1st Division, was one of the first to go ashore that day. Stockell kept a diary. He recorded that he came in below Vierville, that the skipper of the LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) feared the underwater beach obstacles and mines and thus forced him to get off in chest-deep water, that he saw equipment littering the beach, and then "The first dead Americans I see are two GIs, one with both feet blown off, arms wrapped about each other in a comradely death embrace." He was struck by the thought that "dead men everywhere look pathetic and lonely. You feel as if you would like them to be alive and the war over."

Stockell didn't get very far inland that morning. The front line, in fact, was less than a quarter of a mile from the edge of the bluff, running along a series of hedgerows outside Colleville. That was as far inland as Capt. Joseph Dawson, CO of G Company, 16th Regiment, 1st Division, had gotten on D-Day -- and Dawson had been the first American to reach the top of the bluff at Omaha. On June 7, he was fighting to secure his position outside Colleville, discovering in the process that he had a whole lot to learn about hedgerows.

The 175th Regiment of the 29th Division came in on schedule at 0630, June 7. But it landed two kilometers east of its intended target, the Vierville exit. Orders came to march to the exit. In a loose formation, the regiment began to march, through the debris of the previous day's battle. To Capt. Robert Miller, the beach "looked like something out of Dante's Inferno."

Sniper fire continued to zing down. "But even worse," according to Lt. J. Milnor Roberts, an aide to the corps commander, "they were stepping over the bodies of the guys who had been killed the day before and these guys were wearing that 29th Division patch; the other fellows, brand-new, were walking over the dead bodies. By the time they got down where they were to go inland, they were really spooked."

Philip saw action in France, Belgium, and Germany.  He was injured during the Bulge when his troop train was hit with artillery or rockets. Philip jumped clear of the train but the concussion from the blast blew out his ear drums. He lost all hearing on one side and suffered partial hearing loss in the other ear. Many men from his unit did not make it of the train. After recovering he later served in the Pacific Theater.

If another American soldier questioned Philip’s loyalty he was ready to fist fight with them.  One challenge for Philip during the war was his proximity to his hometown of Montabauer. He did not know the status of his German family. Were they safe? Were they injured?  He was also not permitted to have contact with them. Philip also had cousins who were fighting for the German Army. 

On December 7, 1945 Philip was released from his service.  He returned to Chicago, IL. In 1947 he opened his own tailor shop in northeast Chicago. He operated his shop until 1987. At age 83 he was still working in his shop 11 hours a day 6 days a week. Philip was a founding member of the Rheinischer Gesangverein Chicago (RGV).  The society was founded in 1933.  He has received the Deutscher Sangerbund Award and the Gold Pin in recognition of his continuous attendance and valued participation for 60 years of service.  He was known by the RGV as a loyal and vigorous member. He is remembered as one of the liveliest and most active singers.

Philip passed away on September 25, 2006 at age 99.  
  1. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. Year: 1929; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 4433; Line: 4; Page Number: 209.
  2. Passenger Ships and Images [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007.
  3. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.; Soundex Index to Naturalization Petitions for the United States District and Circuit Courts, Northern District of Illinois and Immigration and Naturalization Service District 9, 1840-1950 (M1285); Microfilm Serial: M1285; Microfilm Roll: 158.
  4. Cook County, Illinois Marriage Index, 1930-1960 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2008.
  5. U.S. Public Records Index, Volume 1 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.
  6. U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.
  7. U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2011.
  8. Individual - Sr. Janet Staub
  9. Individual - Leo Selker


  1. Michelle,

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    Have a wonderful weekend!

    1. Hi Jana.

      Thank you so much for featuring my blog on your site!