Hopkins hero goes back in time to Normandy, D-Day memories

November 17, 1996|By JOHN STEADMAN

Class reunions and gatherings with teammates from the happy growing-up years have been pleasing interludes in the memory bank of life for Bill Rosenthal, who is articulate, gregarious and endowed with enormous intellect and extensive professional credits. Then he talks of visiting Europe and hitting the beach at Normandy -- the second time.

He was hardly prepared for the latest experience, any more than when he landed there in 1944, assigned to a British light cruiser, the H.M.S. Ceres, as an American naval officer, for one of the most awesome events in the history of the world -- the invasion of Europe and the painful struggles that followed. Victory came at an exorbitant price no country or generation should ever have to pay.

But there were Bill and wife Margaret, retracing footsteps of more than a half-century ago. It was a mission, not a joy ride. "I didn't know how I would feel when the memories came flooding back," he said. "But they surely did when I stood on the bluff overlooking Omaha Beach, surrounded by the sea of white crosses and Stars of David in the American cemetery at St. Laurent sur Mer."

Rosenthal, a three-sport athlete at Johns Hopkins University, talks with fond recall about how it felt to make a goal-line stand against Delaware in football, to rebound against Loyola or throw the javelin over the fence in a meet with Washington College. That all preceded World War II, when the pace of life was calm and serene.

There's little correlation to playing sports and fighting wars, he says, because you can be on the winning side and still lose -- your own life and those of friends. "You ask how I felt to return to the exact spot where I landed," he said rhetorically. "I find it hard to respond in simple terms. I found a feeling of profound sadness and respect for those whose young lives ended during the invasion and the battle of Normandy. I had gratitude the good Lord has seen fit to spare me and my shipmates from the same fate."

Rosenthal, 76, robust and ramrod-straight, is proud his family was patriotic enough to fight in three wars, starting with his grandfather, who was a private with the Union Army during the Civil War and was involved at Gettysburg, Richmond and other historic encounters. But, for now, a quick reflection relative to the pseudo-wonders of fun and games.

That would have been Johns Hopkins in the late 1930s, when the players weren't recruited, the alumni weren't dunned for contributions and spectators were admitted free to all the games. He spotlighted names from the football roster, players such as Harry Nance, Edgar Spilman, Bob McLean, Bill Vickers, Charles Westmeyer, John Milligan, Hugh McCormick, Warren Alonso and Charlie Rudo. Hopkins wasn't to be confused with an Eastern power but still gave it the old college try under a grand gentleman of a coach, Gardner Mallonee.

"We only had one man who weighed 200 pounds, Bill Vorhees of Jamaica, N.Y.," Rosenthal remembered. "When we met Delaware, they had only two players over 200. It shows how the game has changed. I bring up the Delaware game because they shut us out in 1940. They had a great coach, Bill Murray, who

went on to Duke. After beating us, Delaware didn't lose another game until 1947, when it lost to Maryland, a team my brother, Malcolm, played for after the war."

He remembers, too, Harold Willard and Bill Vickers going to Hopkins Medical School and still finding time for football, a situation as rare then as it is today. Bill recalls Harry Moore, a lineman who had played at City College years before but came from a family that couldn't afford college tuition. So Moore, older zTC than the rest of the team, worked at Bethlehem Steel, went to Hopkins at night and joined the varsity. True love of the game.

Rosenthal graduated from Forest Park High at 15, so a year later he was a freshman on a college football team. "The toughest foe we faced during my time at Hopkins, I guess, was Drexel, which had recruited widely," he remembers. "They had two top-grade players from Baltimore in Cameron Snyder [later a Sun sportswriter] and Glenn Williams, a powerful fullback. I'm partial to my alma mater and it's highly commendable Hopkins continues football when so many schools either eliminated it or dropped down to a club basis."

Now a partner in the Baltimore law office of Shawe & Rosenthal, and a former president of the Suburban Country Club, Bill can't get over the mood that set in when he went back to Normandy a month ago. He wasn't a hero in the context of winning medals, but aren't all men who go off to war, regardless of their contributions, true All-American heroes?

Rosenthal, a lieutenant, was aboard ship, off Omaha, only hours after the invasion. He came with 5,000 ships of all types, involved in what was termed "Operation Overlord."

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