|This month's MyBestYears.com WE WILL REMEMBER honors two very special
men who served courageously during World War II. The following was written
by Jon Mark Beilue and appears in this eColumn, courtesy of Mr. Beilue,
and the Amarillo Globe-News, where it first appeared on January 21, 2007.
It didn't look hopeful for many of the men. The ship was going down in
the cold Atlantic, and a rescue was a race against time. About an hour
later, a French frigate pulled up against the dying Empire Javelin and
the call went out: every man for himself.
"It only took them one time to tell me,'' said Selman.
He made a 7-foot do-or-drown leap onto the French ship, and so did
many others. There were so many on board that Selman said he could
reach down and touch the water. A call rang out that Selman and others
had to hurry off that ship on to lifeboats and eventually to an oncoming
A shaken Selman, eventually on the British ship, hadn't gone half a mile
when he looked back and saw the Empire Javelin for the last time.
"It went straight up, and then straight down,'' he said.
Not all made it, but Selman did. They were issued a blanket "and we all
huddled together like pigs,'' he said. Able to finally gather himself, he
thought of his wife of two years, Burline, and the promise he'd made to
He spent a month in France, and then on to Belgium after the Battle of
the Bulge. His division went into Germany and he was there when the
European war ended on May 15, 1945. He stayed in occupied Germany
until Feb. 8, 1946, when he came home.
As Selman says, he and 12 million other GIs were trying to find work. He
went to Abilene, where Burline was, and bounced around as a banker
and a credit manager.
A LEAP OF FAITH
...62 Years Ago and Counting
Twenty-four days ago, J.V. Selman, 85, picked up the telephone and heard a familiar
voice, John Evans from Lubbock, two men tied together by war and coincidence. "Happy
anniversary,'' Evans said.
J. V. Selman sits with his wife, Burline Selman. A fateful day 62 years ago changed Selman
forever and gave special meaning to the life he would lead.
The two talked for a while, not so much reminiscing about a fateful day 62 years ago, but
using the occasion to catch up a little, wish the other a happy new year, and perhaps,
after hanging up, to later reflect on how Dec. 28, 1944, forever changed them and gave
special meaning to the lives they would lead.
It certainly did for Selman, who was a 23-year-old buck sergeant in the 15th Army
Headquarters Division in December 1944. He was among about 3,500 men on the Empire
Javelin, a British troopship sailing in the English Channel. They were headed to Belgium
as reinforcements in the famous Battle of the Bulge, Germany's last-gasp fierce fight of
World War II.
The Empire Javelin, a British troop ship, sinks in the English Channel on Dec. 28, 1944,
after being hit by a German torpedo. J.V. Selman of Amarillo was among the survivors. "I
said, 'Lord, if you let me on with my life, I'll do my best to serve you,'" Selman said.
They never made it. About 2:30 that afternoon, a German U-boat's torpedo rocked the
Empire Javelin, causing unimaginable chaos as the ship began to swiftly go down.
Selman, five years out of his hometown of Hobbs, N.M., thought his life might be over. He
was on one of the lower decks, trying to keep warm, when he heard the explosion and
everything went black.
"First thing I did was pray,'' Selman said. "I said, 'Lord, if you let me on with my life, I'll do
my best to serve you.'"
J.V. and Burline Selman
His brother-in-law in Lubbock, who owned a flower shop, taught him the florist business. That began a career as a
florist, moving to Amarillo as owner of Boston Greenhouse in 1953 and later as owner of Amarillo Wholesale Florist.
But Selman, who at the time called himself "a mediocre Christian,'' never forgot nor minimized his promise in 1944. He
thought at the time the best thing he could do was to make as much money as he could, so his tithe to the church
would be as large as possible.
"That way we could send more missionaries to win the world,'' he said. "That was my concept. I didn't think I could win
anyone to Christ.''
But he and Burline were persuaded to go on their first mission trip, this one to South Korea, as part of a First Baptist
Church group in 1972. He was scared to death. But he went, and told his testimony to a translator a world away.
Then he went back to South Korea a few months later.
That was 55 overseas missions and 17 countries ago, most paid out of his own pocket. That was the beginning of
work that would take the Selmans on trips into Mexico and along the Texas border to minister to the poor, to help with
Vacation Bible School, to help with construction and repairs at various camps.
He has shared Christ's love and his story with more people than he could possibly count, and continues to do so
twice a week where he passes out groceries and clothing at the Buchanan Street mission.
Carolyn Ballew of Amarillo first heard Selman's near-death experience and promise to God when she was part of a
mission trip to Minnesota in 1978. It stuck with her.
About eight years ago, John Evans, a longtime family friend, was recalling his experiences in World War II as a
second lieutenant in the 3188th signal service battalion. Evans, whose wife had recently died, had moved to Lubbock
after spending 30 years as an electrical engineer for Southwestern Public Service Co. in Amarillo.
It was familiar: His ship was hit by a German torpedo near the end of the war. He was rescued in the English Channel.
He had gone on to a productive, full life.
"I thought I had heard this before, but not from the same person,'' Ballew said. "I asked J.V., 'What was the name of
that ship again?' When he told me, I said that you need to meet someone.''
Selman did meet Evans, and they both were on that ill-fated Empire Javelin in 1944. For decades, they lived maybe
two miles apart - Evans on Tucson Street, Selman on Hawthorne - yet didn't know each other or the life-changing link
they both shared. As well as the same promise.
"I figured I'd bought the farm,'' Evans said. "I thought I was going to die but at least my family would get some
insurance. But I said if God would spare me, I'd sure do all I could to be a good Christian. God must have had a plan
for me, and a plan for J.V.''
A leap of faith, 62 years and counting.