Richard Alexander Selkirk
June 1, 1920 – November 30, 1944
Richard “Dick” Selkirk was born in Albany, the eldest of three children. His father, Alexander, was an attorney; his mother, Cora, stayed home with Dick and sisters Ruth and Jeane. Cora and Dick attended St. Andrew’s while the girls went to the Presbyterian Church with their father. At St. Andrew’s Dick was active in the Young People’s Fellowship, sang in the Choir and taught Sunday School.
Dick Selkirk attended the Milne School where he played on the basketball team and led the Theta Nu Literary Society (a group whose “literary” activities mostly consisted of banquets and dances!). Dick was a leader in his class; he served as homeroom president, class vice president and president. Dick’s sister Jeane says what Dick liked most to do was talk. He served on the debate team and won a medal for Speaking. For his Senior quote he chose “Men’s arguments often prove their ability.”
While at Milne, Dick Selkirk heard a presentation by a local officer with Troop B at the New Scotland Armory. In 1939, he joined the Troop, part of the 121st Cavalry Regiment of the New York Guard. He worked in an office and spent weekends with the guard, rising to the rank of sergeant. The German Army’s successful use of tanks in the invasion of Poland led the United States Army to develop anti-tank units. The 121st cavalry was redesignated the 101st Anti-Tank Battalion. In the fall of 1940, the National Guard units were activated for full-time duty and the 101st was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia. In April of 1942, Dick was able to return to Albany on leave, dropping by St. Andrew’s to tell Father Findlay good-bye.
By the summer of 1942, the anti-tank forces, now renamed tank destroyer battalions, were ready for their debut on the battlefield. Dick Selkirk left the U.S. with a tank destroyer battalion that August. In September, he was promoted from enlisted man to officer; honorably discharged a sergeant, he reenlisted in the Army a second lieutenant. In November of 1942, the United States landed in North Africa and began to fight the German forces stationed there. The tank destroyer battalions were not an initial success and their officers found themselves learning tactics as they fought. Dick rose through the ranks, becoming a captain. He maintained contact with Father Findlay, delighting the Rector with an anecdote about leading a prayer service for 500 men using the Book of Common Prayer he had carried with him.
Dick Selkirk did not stay with the tank destroyers, instead moving to the 36th “Texas” Infantry Division. In September of 1943, Dick, commanding the anti-tank company of the 142nd Infantry Regiment, a part of the 36th Division, landed at Salerno, Italy. The 36th Division fought its way north to Rome over the following 10 months, participating in several critical battles. Dick moved up in responsibility, first taking over command of an infantry company, then becoming the operations officer for a battalion.
In August of 1944, Captain Dick Selkirk, now the assistant operations officer for the entire 142nd regiment, landed with the 36th Division at St. Raphael in southern France. The invasion force pushed northwards quickly, leaving the troops little time to rest. By October they had reached the foot of the Vosges Mountains. Dick was promoted once again, to executive officer of a battalion. The 36th pushed into the well-defended passes of the Vosges, eventually breaching the critical Ste. Marie Pass.
The following day, November 30th, the 142nd regiment was cleaning out the last bits of resistance from the high grounds along the pass. Dick Selkirk was hit by a stray German shell and killed instantly. He was 24 years old. The men of the 142nd found a Protestant church in the village of Ste. Marie aux Mines and there, four days after his death, they held a funeral for Dick. His fiancée, Lt. Pauline Skalos, an Army nurse he’d met during the war did not attend. Her friends did not inform her of the service as they thought it would only deepen her grief.