Sellier saw war from different viewpoint

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 7, 2003

Editor’s Note: Each month the members of American Legion Post No. 20 honor a different Dallas County veteran of World War II for service to his country. The honoree for June is William P. Sellier.

Bill Sellier never dug a foxhole, never faced down an enemy machine gun, never waded ashore under hostile fire.

Still, World War II might have ended very differently without the exploits of Sellier and the thousands of citizens-turned-soldier like him who comprised the Army Transportation Corps.

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The Transportation Corps, the successor to the venerable Quartermaster Corps, was responsible for moving and supplying American troops wherever they were with whatever they needed.

When American GIs and supplies began pouring across the Atlantic in mind-boggling amounts, they did so under the watchful auspices of the Transportation Corps.

When Allied troops stormed ashore on the beaches of Normandy or on some godforsaken island in the Pacific, the Transportation Corps made certain they had something to fight with once they got there.

And food.

And fuel.

And ammunition.

It has been said that when it comes to war, amateurs argue tactics; professionals focus on logistics. The soldiers who fought on the front lines might have grabbed the headlines, but it was Sellier and his fellow Transportation Corps veterans who fueled those hard-won victories.

Sellier served aboard a tugboat in a harbor craft company, unloading the never-ending stream of supplies needed to move a modern army from harbor to shore and to keep them supplied once they got there.

As chief marine diesel engineer of a four-man engine-room crew, Sellier belonged to the &uot;black gang&uot; which worked below deck. The rest of the crew &045;&045; captain, navigator, deckhands &045;&045; worked topside.

For much of the war Sellier and his fellow crewmembers were assigned to a 100-ton floating crane that unloaded everything from locomotives to toilet paper.

Good weather or bad, rough seas or calm, Sellier and his crew maneuvered the crane alongside the supply ships that lined Antwerp harbor.

At the time Antwerp was the third-largest harbor in the world. The American section alone could accommodate 219 ships. Sellier and his crew &045;&045; who were assigned the first tugboat in Antwerp harbor &045;&045; often worked around the clock unloading supplies.

The need for supplies was so pressing and the pace of the war so rapid that Sellier and his crew occasionally encountered grisly reminders of just how expendable the individual soldier is in time of war.

He recalls, &uot;When we got to Antwerp the Germans had moved out so quickly that we found evidence of German soldiers who had been buried so hastily that their feet were sticking up out of the sand.&uot;

Although Sellier and his crew seldom came under direct attack, neither could they forget for long that they were in a war. Because of its vital role in keeping Allied troops on the European continent supplied, Antwerp came under nearly continuous attack by German V-1 and V-2 rockets.

He tells of one instance in which his tug was tied to a dock when a V-2 struck a nearby warehouse. &uot;When the warehouse exploded, t was close enough it blew out the pilot house windows,&uot; he recalls. &uot;Debris tinkled down out of the sky for several minutes. One of the crewmembers said, ‘Maybe we ought to take a look.’ We told him, ‘Don’t go out yet. Wait till it stops tinkling.’&uot;

Sellier’s tug was in dry-dock for routine maintenance on May 8, 1945, the day the Germans surrendered. The anti-aircraft batteries that ringed Antwerp harbor illuminated the night sky with tracers. &uot;There were so many lights in the sky it was just like Christmas,&uot; Sellier says.

Adding to the delirium, the hundreds of ships in the harbor blew every whistle that would make a noise. Nestled snugly in dry-dock, Sellier and his crew happily added their tug’s whistle to the celebration.

But even the thrill of V-E Day and of finally getting to return home began to fade in the reality of post-war America. As did many returning GIs, Sellier found the competition for jobs stiff.

Eager to please his young bride, the former Rebecca Jordan, Sellier agreed to move to Selma, where her family had deep roots, after getting out of the service.

Like many Selmians, Sellier eventually found work at Craig Field. &uot;I went to work in the plumbing shop,&uot; he says. &uot;One day I found myself with a shovel in my hand and I thought to myself, ‘Well, here’s that day I talked about.’&uot;

He later became ground safety inspector at Craig Field, where he was responsible for any safety-related matter &uot;up to the time that airplane engine started.&uot;

There followed a succession of different jobs as Sellier sought both to keep his promise and to provide for a growing family.

For a time he ran Railroad Furniture Salvage, one of the first low-overhead, discount salvage operations of its kind. It operated out of an abandoned cotton warehouse on Water Avenue, where Spiller Furniture now stands.

He also tried his hand at selling cars and home appliances, before finally retiring at age 80 from the Selma Water Works as a plant operator.

If Sellier has any regret it is that he allowed himself to become so busy earning a living that he failed to be as actively involved as he would have liked to have been in the life of his son, William H. Sellier, head of publicity for Dallas County Schools.

Sellier credits his church family with helping smooth over the rough spots in his own life, like the time Rebecca died. &uot;My church has been my salvation, as it is for everybody,&uot; he says. &uot;My church family has been a blessing to me. They become your friends.&uot;

Now 86, Sellier and his wife, Lucille, will celebrate their fourth anniversary this month. He just returned from his 68th high school class reunion. He notes proudly that some 40 class members still attend. &uot;Of course,&uot; he adds, &uot;we lost a lot of them in World War II….&uot;

But there is another regret that Sellier seldom mentions these days, one he must have thought about often as he held that shovel in his hands.

He looks down at his hands and laughs self-consciously. &uot;We got the locks,&uot; he says at last, &uot;but we never did get the traffic.&uot;

Bill Sellier falls silent, perhaps remembering the vibration that a high-speed diesel engine gives off when it’s turning at 750 RPM and everything is running smooth as glass and there’s a harbor full of ships waiting to be unloaded.