Leon Tanguay remembers the day Nazi guards abandoned their posts, leaving himself and other American prisoners of war free to escape.

That day in April 1945, nearing the end of World War II, meant Tanguay would be coming home soon to Sanford.

But so many members of the U.S. military have not come home from wars across the globe, including those officially listed as missing in action.

That fact will bring Tanguay to Hadlock Field Wednesday for the official dedication of a “POW/MIA Chair of Honor” before the Sea Dogs’ game at 7 p.m. The chairs have become a popular way to remind people of the thousands of military personnel who have been POWs or declared MIAs.

“We don’t want people to forget,” Tanguay said from his Sanford home.

Tanguay, 91, remains a member of the Rolling Thunder, a national group that supports veterans and publicizes issues like POW/MIA awareness. The Rolling Thunder – motorcycles and all – will be at Hadlock on Wednesday.

POW/MIA chairs have been placed at other sporting venues in New England, including Fenway Park and TD Garden in Boston.

“We wanted to get one in Maine,” said Cindy DeCosta, events chairperson for the Maine chapter of the Rolling Thunder. Sea Dogs General Manager Geoff Iacuessa said, “When the idea was brought to us, it was a no-brainer (to honor) the military and our armed forces. It was a question of when and where to put it.”

The Sea Dogs did not station it an obscure area, but in the stands, behind Section 111 (the third-base side) in the walkway.

“That was important,” Iacuessa said. “You can’t put it in the concourse.

“(The chair) symbolizes those who are not with us – if they were with us, they’d be watching the game.”

There are similar chairs in Maine, but none at a sports venue.

“That’s a venue where there is a big variety of people,” DeCosta said. “It gives them a moment to pause.”

As part of Wednesday’s pregame ceremony, Tanguay will throw out the first pitch, something he also did two years ago when the Rolling Thunder last visited Hadlock.

“I didn’t throw it too far,” Tanguay said. He has a reason, with a detached muscle in his arm. But he remains active since retiring from masonry work six years ago. That includes taking guitar lessons.

Tanguay is one of approximately 15 former POWs living in Maine. Twelve are from World War II and three from the Vietnam War, according to Lee Humiston, curator of the Maine Military Museum and Learning Center in South Portland.

Tanguay was 18 when he joined the 28th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. He was not part of the initial Normandy invasion (June 6, 1944), but was in the second wave of troops to land in France. “Once the beach was established, my outfit came in and pushed ahead.”

Tanguay was a scout. His unit was close to St. Lo, about 28 miles from Normandy Beach, when his captain sent Tanguay out.

“He said, ‘Go see what’s over there.’ When I got there, I found out,” said Tanguay, who discovered German troops and was captured.

Tanguay spent nine months as a POW, usually on work details on farms or the streets of Munich during the day, and locked up in camp at night. But near the end of the war, the guards deserted the camp.

“They knew they were beat,” Tanguay said. “They just opened the doors and took off.”

Back in Sanford, Tanguay eventually joined his father as a mason. He did brickwork throughout southern Maine. He also played a little softball and took in baseball games at Goodall Park and occasionally Fenway Park.

“I loved to watch Ted Williams,” he said.

Like Williams, Tanguay served his country with distinction.

Hadlock fans will be watching Wednesday evening as Tanguay walks toward the mound. But he’ll be the first to direct attention from himself to a chair, located behind Section 111.

It is a Chair of Honor. And it will always be empty.

 


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