Walter Frederick Wintsch Sr., a retired insurance executive and World War II Navy medical corpsman who participated in the Allied invasion of Normandy, collapsed and died Tuesday while playing basketball at a Catonsville gymnasium. The longtime Timonium resident was 80.
Mr. Wintsch was a member of a seniors basketball team that meets three times a week at the Bykota Senior Center in Towson. He was stricken during a game against another team in preparation for competing this weekend in Pittsburgh at the National Senior Games.
While most people his age pursue less-taxing physical activities or head for the rocking chair, Mr. Wintsch not only enjoyed full-court basketball with teammates whose average age was in the 70s, but he also played softball, rode a bicycle and walked several miles a day.
"This is two hours of therapy with no fee," Mr. Wintsch said of basketball in a 2001 article in The Sun.
"He was one of the pioneers who started the program a few years ago. He was an amazing shooter with the old-fashioned two-hand set shot," said Alan Goldstein, a retired Sun sportswriter and team member. "He was in amazing shape and didn't have an ounce of fat on his body. He was very competitive, and I used to say to him, 'Hey, slow down, it's only a game.'"
He added: "The only bad thing about him was that he was a Yankee fan."
"Everyone just loved Walt. He was that kind of a guy, just the salt of the earth," said Gil Hoffman, an attorney and teammate.
"He loved his Bykota team; that was a big part of his life," said Mr. Wintsch's wife of 50 years, the former Ethel Robinson. "He'd play basketball in the morning, cut the grass in the afternoon, eat supper, and then go for a three-mile walk where he collected golf balls from the nearby Longview Golf Club. He has bags and bags of balls."
Born in Hackensack, N.J., and raised in Binghamton, N.Y., Mr. Wintsch enlisted in the Navy in 1942. He was sent to Bainbridge Naval Training Center and in 1944 was assigned to Landing Ship Tank 52 for a convoy that took 15 days to sail across the North Atlantic from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to England.
Later, assigned to LST 6, he participated in the D-Day invasion -- witnessing its starting moments from the vessel's deck early on June 6, 1944.
"When I looked out there, I said to myself, 'This is the biggest day of your life.' There were ships all over the place," he told The Sun in 2001.
Amid intense German shelling, Mr. Wintsch and crewmates delivered troops and supplies to the beach, and returned with loads of the wounded and dying.
Several months later, he was transferred to the Pacific and the Marine Corps. Mr. Wintsch held the rank of pharmacist's mate at his 1946 discharge.
He returned to Binghamton and earned a bachelor's degree in psychology in 1950 from Harpur College there.
Mr. Wintsch joined Travelers Insurance Co. and in 1972 was transferred to Baltimore, where he was a regional claims manager for Maryland, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. He retired in 1982.
"In the beginning, he didn't want to talk about the war or his service. He didn't want to have anything to do with the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars until about 12 years ago, when he became active with an LST reunion organization," Mrs. Wintsch said.
The couple returned to Normandy for the 40th and 50th anniversaries of the D-Day landings, and to Hawaii for the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Mr. Wintsch was visibly moved when visiting the American cemetery at Pointe du Hoc, above the cliffs of Omaha Beach. "He was very pensive, and we both cried," his wife said.
For the past 28 years, Mr. Wintsch never missed the annual Memorial Day ceremonies at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium. He liked to stand far back from the politicians and decorated veterans.
"I think of all my buddies that are gone," he noted in 2001.
"He was there again on Monday," his wife said.
Mr. Wintsch was a communicant of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Cockeysville and a Red Cross blood donor.
Funeral plans are incomplete.
Other survivors include two sons, Walter Frederick Wintsch Jr. of Burnt Hills, N.Y., and Joseph G. Wintsch of Phoenixville, Pa.; three daughters, Barbara E. Wintsch of Parkville, Jo Ann Behounek of Street and Karen M. Goodall of Perry Hall; a sister, Gertrude Wintsch of Binghamton; and nine grandchildren.