When Sanford Rosenthal returned from serving in the Vietnam War, people at the airport spat on him and other soldiers, calling them baby killers.
It's an experience he wants to ensure no soldier again endures. It's part of the reason he's dedicated the past 30 years of his life to helping veterans, to showing them that he and others are grateful for their sacrifice.
"It's nice to tell somebody, 'Thank you for your service,' and to look at them and mean it," said Rosenthal, 80, of Murray. "That's what makes me feel good … the feeling that they get."
Rosenthal, who served in the Army for more than 20 years before retiring, often picks up patients from the airport who fly to Salt Lake City for treatment, driving them to the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center or the Huntsman Cancer Institute.
He also is known to drive a golf cart through the VA medical center, transporting patients throughout the hospital. And he helps coordinate annual Stand Downs, VA events for homeless vets featuring haircuts, dental treatments and food, among other things.
Jill Atwood, director of public affairs for the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System, said Rosenthal is an institution there. She said he's always smiling, and, this time of year, he's known to travel the hallways wearing antlers or a Santa hat.
"Our hospital could not exist without people like Sanford," Atwood said. "Sanford is probably one of the more dedicated volunteers we have here at the hospital. Basically, he eats, sleeps and breathes veterans."
Rosenthal works with a number of other veterans service organizations as well.
He said he's watched services for veterans improve dramatically between the time he left the Army and now. He hopes those services and his volunteer work help show veterans their importance.
"If it wasn't for the veterans, we wouldn't have a country," Rosenthal said. "Freedom is not free."