Richard F. Lang was a standout high school athlete, a semi-pro baseball player, a firefighter, a husband and a father. But in his mind, he was always a Marine, said his son, Bill Lang.
Rich Lang, 87, died Saturday at the Veterans Administration Hospital. He suffered from congestive heart failure and was hospitalized about a week ago.
“He was just worn out,” his son said.
Rich Lang had enough experiences for two or three lives.
He graduated from high school early so he could enlist in the Marine Corps. At St. Joseph High School he scored a city record 61 points in a basketball victory over Sacred Heart High, and was a star pitcher on the baseball team.
After basic training he shipped out to Guam, where he was shot and seriously injured. A mixup in the War Department resulted in a letter being sent to his family in November 1944 notifying them that Pvt. Richard Lang had been killed in action. His family thought he was dead until he called home in December.
According to a World-Herald story published on Memorial Day 2011, Lang took two bullets as he tried to crawl to someone else who had been shot. One bullet went through his hip and out his back. The other hit his right knee.
He was hospitalized for more than a year and received a Purple Heart; but for Lang, the war was over.
After his recuperation, he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers and briefly played minor-league baseball with Jackie Robinson. But his wartime wounds stole most of his athletic promise, World-Herald reporter Matthew Hansen wrote.
Lang served 28 years with the Omaha Fire Department and was credited with saving the lives of 40 people over the course of his career.
Bill Lang said his father rarely talked about his World War II service or his exploits as a firefighter, unless someone asked. He just considered it his job, his son said.
Rich Lang was a volunteer physical education teacher at St. Patrick Catholic School and coached his sons' baseball and basketball teams.
“He was a great dad. I have good memories growing up,” Bill Lang said.
He said his father “was a tough old guy” who lived independently, despite numerous back surgeries and having to use a wheelchair after the amputation of a leg.
Bill Williams, whose Patriotic Productions sponsors Heartland Honor Flights for WWII veterans to Washington, D.C., said Rich Lang was on the first trip, on May 21, 2008.
“He was one proud Marine,” said Williams, who remained close to Lang and will speak at his funeral.
He was a superb example of the “grit and determination of the Greatest Generation,” Williams said.
For example, he initially refused to be helped onto the plane for the trip to Washington, Williams said, saying that he hadn't been carried since Guam.
“I saw him recently,” Williams said. “He was ready to go.”
Besides son Bill, survivors include another son, Dr. Rick Lang of Omaha; daughters Laura Mauro, Peggy Reynolds and Mary Jo Lang of Omaha; sisters Frances Rieschl and Marian Pruch of Omaha; 19 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
A funeral Mass will begin at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Patrick's Catholic Church, 14th and Castelar Streets, with burial in St. Mary Magdalene Cemetery.
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