Vietnam POW credits baseball with helping him survive
A former Navy Captain Dick Tangeman used to the resilience he learned the playing of baseball Hall of Fame Yankees skipper Joe Torre.
It’s been 49 years since the Major League Baseball All-Star Game was played in the capital of the country, but even more so because Navy Captain Richard “Dick” Tangeman spoke at length of his childhood classmate from Brooklyn, Hall of Fame New York Yankees Manager Joe Torre.
A day before the All-Star Game at Nationals Park (8 p.m. and Tuesday on the Fox), Tangeman, and Torre turned on before a scheduled lunch at the National Press Club in Washington with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.
Tangeman, a Vietnam veteran who tortures endured and isolation for five years in captivity as a P. O. W., greeted his old friend by walking over with his hand outstretched.
Torre, not to relent, and gave him a big hug instead.
“When I discovered that you are planning to be here, your face stuck out for me, because there was a picture [I liked] our quality. It was wild,” Torre said.
“Because I’m handsome?” Tangeman joked.
“What else could it be? We went to primary school together,” Torre told his friends.
“I always felt baseball is the game of life. You play it every day. You have to take the highs and lows, and when you fall down, you have to get up and keep moving.’
– Joe Torre
The two former classmates played baseball together at St. Francis Prep in Brooklyn.
Tangeman said that his teammate and future Hall of Famer was “always friendly, strong and quiet.” Tangeman called Torre a “very humble” team-mate despite a .752 batting average and 14 homers in only 16 games.
Torre would go on to play for 18 seasons in the major leagues beginning at the age of 19, spending half of his career as an all-star.
Hall of Fame New York Yankees former manager Joe Torre again with an old classmate ahead of the All-Star Game.
He spent another 29 years as a manger, including winning four World Series Championship Yankees manager.
Tangeman took a different path.
After high school he went to the university in the area of N. Y., and later become a naval aviator. Tangeman flew more than 40 missions from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise in the North of Vietnam.
On May 5, 1968, Tangeman, the RA-5C Vigilante reconnaissance jet was shot down by anti-aircraft fire 200 km south of Hanoi in Ha Tinh Province near the border with Laos. Tangeman, the 25-year-old navigator, ejected, together with the pilot, Lt. Giles Norrington. Both would survive and be the prisoners of the war.
Tangeman’s wife, Lori, said her husband had been accepted to the medical school of the University of Florida and has extended his time aboard the Enterprise, when he was shot.
Tangeman said after parachuting down, and he was marched 13 days from north to Hanoi, in the beginning of nearly five years in captivity, including time spent in the infamous Hanoi Hilton. Tangeman credits his years playing baseball to help him survive the repeated torture.
“You need resilience, sharp leaders,” Tangeman told Fox News. “No matter what happens, come back fighting just as hard the next day. It is as if you lost the game and then you come back tomorrow.”
In 1969, the North Vietnamese allowed their American prisoners to attend Christmas Mass, Tangeman recalled. Despite the fear special treatment, a violation of U.S. military Code of conduct, which states that prisoners accept neither parole or special favors from the enemy,” Tangeman attended the service to learn the names of other P. O. Ws.
“They lost complete control at the communion time, because the Catholics are used to run the rail for communion, and there, we exchanged names.”
Tangeman says that his faith in God kept him alive.
“I said the prayers of all the time,” he recalled. Tangeman also credits his fellow inmates, often with advanced degrees, for sharing their expertise.
During this period, he was completely isolated from the news from home, including his childhood friend’s success. Asked if he knew Joe Torre won the National League MVP award in 1971, Tangeman said, “I didn’t know for a while that we were on the moon.”
In 1973, nearly 600 American P. O. W.’s back from Vietnam. Major League Baseball and presented each with a “golden ticket” to see any regular season game in any stadium in the United States (including a guest) free no expiration date.
“It was great. It was a shock. It even came in a nice leather pouch,” said Tangeman.
Tangeman used the pass to reconnect with his young son, Derek, born for Tangeman sent to Vietnam.
“We drive three hours to Atlanta and go for the games,” Tangeman recalled.
While catching up with his old classmate from Brooklyn, Torre was asked why baseball brings people together.
“I always felt baseball is the game of life,” Torre said. “You play every day. You have to take the highs and lows, and when you fall down, you have to get up and keep moving.”
Luke Tomlinson is the Pentagon and the State Department producer Fox News Channel. You can follow him on Twitter: @LucasFoxNews