Donald E. Rickert Sr., a decorated World War II veteran, retired printer and avid tennis player, died of complications from an infection Thursday at Oak Crest Village in Parkville. The former longtime Rodgers Forge resident was 86.
Mr. Rickert was born in Baltimore and raised in Highlandtown. He was a 1937 graduate of the old Ottmar Mergenthaler School of Printing and completed a five-year printing apprenticeship at Lord Baltimore Press in 1942.
He enlisted in the Army that year and attained the rank of staff sergeant.
"Because of his extensive printing experience, he was given the option of working in a stateside printing facility but declined the offer," said a son, Robert J. Rickert of Timonium. Instead, he was assigned to the 83rd Division Rangers in Europe.
"He landed on Omaha Beach six days after the D-Day invasion and for the next 40 days, until being seriously wounded, saw heavy frontline combat," his son said.
Mr. Rickert was struck in the head and right arm by shrapnel from a 500-pound bomb that landed about 50 yards from his position.
"It was one of ours and I was the one who called for it because our officers were wiped out and I took over our platoon," he told the Towson Times in 2000. "I crawled across Normandy for 40 days. It was hell."
"He was acting lieutenant because their lieutenant had been killed. He was given the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for carrying several wounded soldiers - including one who had lost his legs - off the battlefield," his son said.
After recuperating in England for three months, he was stationed in Choisy-au-Bac, France, where he and his unit provided security for the recently liberated town. He made many friends there, and while attending the French Open tennis tournament in 1997, he returned to the town for the first time since 1945.
"This time, his visit was made under more favorable conditions and when word of the return of Liberator Rickert spread through the town, he was flabbergasted how they greeted him. He even had dinner with the mayor," his son said.
Until about 20 years ago, Mr. Rickert seldom spoke of his wartime experiences. Two years ago, he recorded his World War II experiences for the Veterans History Project that is under the direction of the Library of Congress.
"I think once the horrors of war had faded, he was able to talk about it and be proud of what he had done. He was very patriotic," his son said.
He returned to Baltimore after the war and worked as a Linotype operator for the Government Printing Office in Washington until 1961, when he took a similar position with the Social Security Agency in Woodlawn. He retired as chief of printing procurement in 1983.
Mr. Rickert's lifelong passion for tennis began on the clay courts at Clifton Park as a 10-year-old.
A natural right hander, his wartime wounds in that arm and shoulder kept him in constant pain, and when he was in his early 50s, his doctor advised him to give up tennis.
"He had other ideas. Rather than give up his beloved game, he decided to relearn it as a lefty," his son said.
"I started by hitting the ball against the wall," he told The Evening Sun in 1976, "and, boy, was I clumsy. From there I began reading books and trying to get my footwork down. Man, I had to reverse everything."
"He wasn't as competitive as a left-hander, but he loved the sport," said Ken Boone, a longtime friend,
"And when the Saturday morning club went to the French Open, we took a trip to Normandy. He found there were seven men from his platoon he had known who were buried there," Mr. Boone said. "We visited one grave, and he saluted and then began crying. We all did."
The 50-year Register Avenue resident was a communicant of St. Pius X Roman Catholic Church. He moved to the Parkville retirement community in 2000.
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at noon tomorrow in the chapel at Oak Crest, 8820 Walther Blvd.
Also surviving are his wife of 57 years, the former Mary Regina "Jeanne" Huber; another son, Donald E. Rickert Jr. of Atlanta; a daughter, Mary Patricia Rickert-Wilbur of Lutherville; two sisters, Fern Cesky of Conowingo and Carol Ricks of Ocean City; and five grandsons.