90-year-old Selwyn Dante of Las Vegas, NV appears on episode #430 of Hometown Heroes, debuting July 29, 2016.
Born in Arkansas, and raised in Winnsboro, LA, Dante served with the 638th Tank Destroyer Battalion in Europe during World War II.
You’ll hear about the freak accident that left him with a fractured skull as a boy, the famed WWII hero from his part of Louisiana, and what Sel remembers about December 7, 1941. While a student at Louisiana State University, he tried to enlist in the Army Air Corps, but was turned down for being underweight. He remembers weighing just 111 pounds at the time. Dante is proud of his Jewish heritage, and you’ll hear him explain how he was not only aware of what was happening to European Jews, but actually lost relatives in the Holocaust.
Drafted into the Army, he trained at Fort Sill, OK before being hurried overseas, coming ashore at Normandy’s Omaha Beach in January, 1945. In late March, Sel got to join other Jewish servicemen for a Passover seder in Belgium, and you’ll hear him explain why that occasion held so much meaning for him. The origin of the Passover holiday bears a parallel to some of the close calls Dante would experience in uniform. According to the biblical account Exodus 12, Moses and the Israelites received divine protection from plagues afflicting the Egyptians. The families of the captive Israelites were “passed over” when death came to the firstborn of every Egyptian household. As Selwyn Dante and the tank destroyers of the 638th navigated through Europe with the 84th Infantry Division, he had at least two occasions in which he felt that death had passed him over as well.
Not long after joining his unit, Dante was relaxing against a wall at night, he’s legs spread out in front of him. A German plane came over to strafe, and Dante watched helplessly one round struck the ground between his knees and another hit inches above his head. “It scared the living devil out of me,” he remembers. “I shook like mad, but I got over it.” The next time, he was driving a jeep at the front of a column of vehicles when a German FW-190 made a strafing pass, using its 37mm cannon. A shell landed just four feet behind his jeep, but instead of detonating, it bounced over the jeep, landed on the other side, and never did explode. “It would have killed me immediately,” Dante says of the shell that turned out to be a dud.
You’ll hear what Sel remembers about arriving at the Hannover-Ahlem concentration camp in April, 1945.
A satellite camp of the larger camp at Neuengamme, Hannover-Ahlem is the setting for the documentary film Angel of Ahlem.
Listen to Hometown Heroes to find out about some of the unique mementos Dante brought home from the war, including some taken from the estate of famed German admiral Karl Doenitz. You’ll also learn the first thing he did upon returning to American soil, and get a taste of his experience with Honor Flight Southern Nevada.
“It was a wonderful experience,” Dante says of his trip to Washington, D.C. in April 2016. Observing the National World War II memorial in person made the emotionals well up inside of him.
“I teared up like everybody should tear up,” you’ll hear him say. “You feel it in your heart for sure.”