If 99-year-old Canyonlands Care Center resident Matt Langianese tells you the President of France recently appointed him as a chevalier of the National Order of the Legion of Honor, believe him. He has the medal to prove it.
The knighthood came 76 years after Langianese landed on the beaches of Normandy on June 9, 1944, three days after the D-Day landing, where he and his fellow soldiers began to fight their way across France and through Germany and ultimate victory over Adolph Hitler and the Nazis.
His daughter, Joette Langianese, contacted The Times-Independent on the 76th anniversary of her father’s landing at Omaha Beach. “The fighting for him ended when his group liberated the town of Friedberg, Germany” said Joette.
The French consulate in San Francisco contacted her last fall. The French wanted to honor those who helped France during World War II and they were especially interested in recognizing those whose war began at Normandy.
“We were planning to celebrate with him today, [June 9] but because of COVID he is unable to have any visitors, let alone a big celebration,” she said.
A veteran of both World War II and the Korean War, Matt Langianese had to provide proof he was at Normandy, a job that was made easier thanks to the Honor Flight Network, which transports veterans to Washington, D.C., to show them memorials. The family had to gather all of his service information to qualify for that trip that took place four or five years ago. And even that wasn’t too difficult after seven decades. “Luckily, my dad kept a scrapbook,” where they found his form DD214, a comprehensive document that includes a service member’s record and discharge status, said Joette.
“The plan was to surprise him, and then COVID happened. We decided it would be better to tell him. What if something happens and he never knows?” said Joette. While she and Matt speak every day, the pandemic is taking a toll. Her father is restless and she’s heartbroken. “I have not been able to give him a hug since March and what makes it worse is everybody is out and hugging but we can’t visit people at the Care Center. It’s been very, very hard.”
Her dad took out some of the sting when he learned about becoming a knight. “Well,” he deadpanned. “I guess we better call the newspaper.” And so she did.
“Oh yeah, I’m OK,” said Matt during a phone call Tuesday. “The Care Center is a beautiful place.”
Matt was 24 years old when he landed at Normandy. He was the oldest of five boys and all of them served at the same time. “That was pretty rough on our mother,” he said.
Matt is the last living brother. Joette said he never talked about the wars he fought in and she never heard her uncles broach the subject, either. She heard them discussing their experiences when they were old men and learned that was the first time they had shared stories.
Matt has a lot of energy. His memory isn’t as sharp as it used to be, he said, but he remembers landing at Normandy and some of the battles he and his buddies fought over the next several months. “I can’t recall everything, but sometimes I get flashbacks that are almost real. It’s like I’m there,” he said.
The French bestowed a knighthood and its Medal of the Legion of Honor, an award Napoleon established in 1802 to acknowledge services rendered to France by people of “exceptional merit.”
“The French people will never forget his courage and devotion to the great cause of freedom,” wrote the Consul. The award, he wrote, “… is a sign of France’s infinite gratitude and appreciation for his personal and precious contribution to the Allies’ decisive role in the liberation of our country during World War II.”
Seventy-six years earlier, Matt earned two Bronze Star Medals for acts of valor, first in France, and then in Germany. And while he misses hugging his daughter as much as she misses hugging him, Matt said better days are coming.
“I turn 100 in August. August 17, and I’m planning a big celebration,” he said.