Donald Rosenthal’s WWII injuries never quite healed.
The 92-year-old former infantryman was wounded during the Battle of the Bulge. He suffered damage to his intestines that later required surgery — a new procedure at the time.
Rosenthal, of Frederick, was drafted into the Army at age 18 on March 6, 1944. He was deployed to Europe that September, and he was discharged Jan. 9, 1946.
He fought in the Ardennes with the 2nd Infantry Division, where he was hit twice by friendly fire, what he believed to be shrapnel.
“The only thing I can remember is, you know, I was there and then the next thing I knew, I was in the hospital. Fortunately. And, like I said, it was friendly fire,” Rosenthal said.
He wasn’t angry or upset when he learned he was hurt by his comrades, he said he was just happy to be alive.
“I said, ‘Thank you for not killing me,’” he said with a laugh.
He spent around three months recovering at the hospital in Stoke-on-Trent, England. He got regular meals and enjoyed conditions more comfortable than those in the field.
“That’s the best period of time I had in the Army,” he joked, adding that he hated the snow and cold.
In Stoke-on-Trent, he met the girl who would eventually become his wife, June Pamela Cooper Rosenthal. They met at a dance and their relationship blossomed from there. They were engaged to be married by the time the war ended.
The Army sent Rosenthal home to the U.S. in 1945. By the end of the year, June was able to rejoin him as a result of the War Brides Act. They remained married until she died in 2011.
Donald Rosenthal’s health issues continued when he was back home. He began to develop stomach problems even before the injury that damaged his intestines. In his memoir, “A Life Lived Well,” he credited K-rations with the start of his colitis symptoms.
“One day, the problems got so bad, they had to do the surgery,” he said.
Doctors performed an ileostomy — one of the first on the East Coast, according to Rosenthal. It was around 1960. The procedure creates an opening in the abdomen to allow waste to leave the body, similar to a colostomy.
“There were a lot of things that I couldn’t do [after the surgery],” Rosenthal said, including swimming. He had to stay on a strict diet, avoiding nuts, rice and hard-to-digest foods.
Being careless could lead to a blockage requiring surgery. Rosenthal said that he was fortunate not to have any problems in that regard. His daughter said she believed he was the oldest ileostomy patient with his original opening site intact.
In addition to the lasting physical impact of the war, Rosenthal said he has had flashbacks to the time he was injured. However, even in light of the enduring impact the war had on him, he considered himself fortunate to have survived. He went on to start a family, build an accounting practice and enjoy his favorite pastime — golf.
“I’m lucky,” he said.