Michael J. Romanelli, former chief of the Computation Branch at Aberdeen Proving Ground and a decorated World War II veteran, died of cancer Thursday at Perry Point VA Medical Center. He was 94.
The son of Joseph Romanelli, an anthracite coal miner, and Carmela Mente Romanelli, Michael John Romanelli was one of 14 children and was raised in Tresckow, in the coal fields of eastern Pennsylvania.
After graduating in 1941 from West Hazleton High School in Hazleton, Pa., he took a railroad job in New Jersey.
He was drafted into the Army Signal Corps in March 1943. After completing basic training, he was promoted to sergeant and joined the 94th Infantry Division, 301st Infantry Regiment. He was sent to Europe, arriving in Scotland in 1944 after a voyage aboard the Cunard liner RMS Queen Elizabeth.
"Unlike others, he found Army chow to be great," said his daughter, Carmella Walls, who lives in Bel Air.
Mr. Romanelli fought in the Battle of the Bulge and, in January 1945, he and his unit were surrounded by the enemy at the heavily fortified city of Orscholz, Germany. This proved to be a tactically important battle for the Siegfried Line, which Gen. George S. Patton Jr., who commanded the 3rd Army, sought to penetrate.
Mr. Romanelli was shot in the arm and was in a pillbox with three other wounded soldiers, unable to break out of the trenches and retreat into the nearby forest. German medics carrying machine guns approached the group — the solders wanted Mr. Romanelli to close the door but he was afraid they would open fire if he did and kill them all.
"He was the only one ambulatory, and when he stood up, he collapsed from loss of blood," his daughter said.
He and his fellow soldiers were marched to a farmhouse. He took off his boots, and the next day his feet could not fit back into them. Mr. Romanelli was taken to a hospital, where they placed his feet in water and wrapped them in paper bandages.
"I am forever grateful to the German doctors and nurses for saving my feet," he told The Morning Call in a 2006 interview.
After a week in the hospital, he and hundreds of other prisoners of war began a more than 300-mile, two-month trek that took them from Belgium to southern Germany during one of the worst European winters in memory.
They walked in single file on either side of the road, endured strafing from Allied aircraft and the unrelenting snow and bitter cold, subsisting on daily rations of a single slice of dark bread. At night, they slept in open snow-covered fields without blankets or shelter.
In "We Regret to Inform You … The Stories of Twelve Former Prisoners of War," published in 2006, Mr. Romanelli told author William F. Rutkowski that the men slept together in the fetal position to keep warm.
"It's amazing what the human body can endure," he told the author.
He was liberated in April 1945 and discharged at the war's end.
"It's unbelievable what he went through, but he told me he always remained positive and said he knew God would send him home," his daughter said.
Returning to Pennsylvania, he learned that his family had been notified by the War Department that he was missing in action.
"I know my mother and family prayed hard for my safe return," he told The Morning Call. "But many other mothers and families prayed just as hard for their sons' safe return and they didn't make it. Why I was spared, I don't know."
In 2014, Mr. Romanelli and three other World War II veterans were awarded the Order of St. Maurice, presented by the Georgia-based National Infantry Association and the U.S. Army Chief of Infantry.
Other decorations included the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman's Badge, Expert Infantryman's Badge, POW Medal, European-Africa-Middle East Campaign Medal with four Battle Stars and the Good Conduct Medal.
As a consequence of exposure to the cold during the war, Mr. Romanelli suffered for the rest of his life from the effects of frostbite.
"I remember when I was a teenager we were shopping one day and I said my feet were cold," his daughter said. "He said he couldn't feel the cold in his feet."
Mr. Romanelli met and fell in love with Antoinette Catino. They married in 1946.
"His older sister worked with her in a shirt factory and set him up on a blind date," his daughter said. "It was a blind date that worked."
Mr. Romanelli enrolled at Penn State University on the GI Bill and earned a bachelor's degree and master's degree in mathematics.
"He graduated on Saturday and started work on Monday at Aberdeen Proving Ground," his daughter said.
He began his career at APG as a mathematician and later was promoted to chief of the Computation Branch of the Ballistics Research Laboratory.
He worked on the development of the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer — ENIAC — one the country's pioneering computers.
He retired from APG in 1980, and continued to live in Aberdeen after his wife's death in 2008. In 2012, he moved to Glen Meadows Retirement Community in Glen Arm.
He was a member of Toastmasters International. He coached youth sports and was a longtime board member of the John Carroll Athletic Association.
He was an avid reader and enjoyed bowling, golfing and "walking miles through Aberdeen," his daughter said. He also was a fan of the Orioles and the Washington Nationals.
He was a communicant of St. Joan of Arc Roman Catholic Church for 64 years, serving as an Eucharistic minister and as a member of the Welcoming Committee.
A Mass of Christian burial will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday at his church, 222 Law St., Aberdeen.
In addition to his daughter, he is survived by three sons, Richard Romanelli of White Marsh, Dr. Ralph Romanelli of Falls Church, Va., and Dr. Michael Romanelli of Rancho Mirage, Calif.; a brother, Joseph Romanelli of Belleville, N.J.; a sister, Mildred Domin of Harrisburg, Pa.; eight grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren.