If Jean Senuta of Olean, N.Y., is proud of her brother, Matt Langianese, she has a right to be. Not every Yank is honored as a knight of France — and certainly not at the age of 99.
But that’s exactly what Langianese, a native of Lewis Run, living in Utah, was made recently when appointed by the president of France a chevalier of the National Order of the Legion of Honor.
According to The Times-Independent of Moab, Utah, the knighthood came 76 years after Langianese landed on the beach at 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.
The French consulate in San Francisco contacted Langianese’s daughter, Joette, 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 (June 9) but because of COVID he is unable to have any visitors, let alone a big celebration,” Joette told the Times-Independent.
A veteran of both World War II and the Korean War, Matt Langianese had to provide proof he was at Normandy, a job 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, Joette said.
Langianese was 24 years old when he landed at Normandy. He was the oldest of five boys — all of them served at the same time.
“That was pretty rough on our mother,” he told The Times-Independent.
“Matt (the last living brother) has a lot of energy,” the article reads. “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 “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.”
Langianese 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 because of the COVID-19, Langianese, who lives in a care home in the Moab area, told The Times-Independent that better days are coming.
“I turn 100 in August. August 17, and I’m planning a big celebration,” he said.