Local WW II hero's ship found in Pacific

| 02 Apr 2018 | 05:06

News about a U.S. Navy ship lost more than 75 years ago during World War II is mostly ancient history but the loss of the light cruiser Juneau is an exception.
The story of five brothers from Iowa who joined the Navy together, chose to serve on the same ship, and went to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean together is a World War II legend. Their story is told in the classic film “The Sullivans.”
In West Milford, the ship is famed for another casualty — West Milford Seaman Second Class Frank Mitchell Sell, who died with the Sullivans when the CL-52 Juneau, was sunk during the Battle of Guadalcanal.
A team funded by Microsoft Co-Founder Paul Allen discovered the wreckage of the Juneau on March 17 about 2.6 miles beneath the surface of the ocean near the coast of the Solomon Islands, according to a statement on Allen’s website. Allen retired from Microsoft in 2000 and is the chair of Vulcan Inc., a business and philanthropic management company.
Divers from the RN Petrel, a ship owned by his company, located the lost ship.
The divers from the Petrel also found the USS Lexington in Allen’s ongoing effort to locate sunken vessels.
The tragedy of the JuneauThe Juneau was sunk by a Japanese torpedo in November 1942. Sell was one of the 687 men who died.
In September of that year, the crew of the Juneau had rescued 1,910 survivors of the CV7 – WASP aircraft carrier (the seventh ship to carry that name) when it was torpedoed and sunk. The Juneau had four battle stars.
Frank A. Holmgren of Eatontown, one of 10 final Juneau survivors, died of natural causes in 2009 at age 86. Holmgren gave reports through the years that the ship was part of a task force sent to intercept a Japanese Naval Armada en route to Guadalcanal Island to attack Henderson Field.
The Juneau was damaged by a torpedo but was limping under her own power. They were intending to rejoin the rest of the fleet that had scattered after the sea battle.
But, on Nov. 13, 1942, Holmgren said he was in a topside station when another torpedo hit the already wounded ship around noon. He scrambled into a lifejacket and escape in a lifeboat as the wrecked, flaming vessel disappeared beneath the surf in less than a minute. Columns of smoke rose 1,000 feet in the air, he said.
The oil slicked ocean was filled with sharks and the sun beat down on the initial 100 survivors. Many of them were badly hurt and didn't survive long. Holmgren described how, as the injured died one by one through the night, the sailers removed the dog tags of the dead and cast the bodies overboard.
At dawn, a B-17 American bomber spotted the survivors. However, due to some confusion eight days passed before the 10 final survivors were rescued.
Frank M. Sell of West Milford was not among them.
Local hero's storySell was a kid who grew up on Macopin Road in the Echo Lake section of the Township of West Milford near the Echo Lake Road turn-off leading to Route 23.
His widowed mother, Mary Sell, supported her family by continuing to operate the tavern after her husband died. The Sells were devout members of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church parish on Germantown Road.
Patriotism was strong in the community and Frank, who was working in the Card and Little General Store in Newfoundland, was quick to join the Navy.
He proudly wore his Navy uniform when he returned home on furloughs and joined his mother and siblings, George Sell Jr. and Mildred Sell, at services at the local church.
Entry to the Sell’s Echo Lake Tavern on Macopin Road just south of the Maple Road intersection was through a door on the sun porch of their home. George Sell Sr. and his wife Mary welcomed customers in a folksy manner. Most were their neighbors.
The scene truly represented famed artist Norman Rockwell’s depiction of a neighborhood, community tavern.
The loss of her son Frank, after the loss of her husband, was devastating blow to Mary Sell.
She eventually retired and marred Clarence Dodd, a retired Paterson widowed jeweler. They lived in Wayne until her death in a motor vehicle accident in a car driven by Dodd.
Those who still remember Frank Sell are now in their senior years and their childhood memories of the Sell family have faded.
Was known to be mannerlyMost people who had stories to tell about the quiet, mannerly Frank Sell, his family and the tavern on Echo Lake Road – have passed on.
Retired Township of West Milford Councilman Peter Gillen, who still lives in the Echo Lake neighborhood not far from the tavern, remembers tagging along with his father, Peter Gillen Sr., and Albert Mathews, Sr., another neighbor, when they stopped at the tavern.
Men, many of whom worked in the Pequannock Rubber Mill in Butler, would make a routine stop at the tavern on the way home to have a beer and relax after the day’s work was done.
It was a place for couples to gather and socialize on Saturday nights, too.
When an American Legion Post was formed by the late Eugene Richards and others in West Milford, they named it the “Frank M. Sell American Legion Post 289 of West Milford” in honor of the fallen hometown hero.