At an informal ceremony surrounded by family and friends, Lou Lattanzi was presented with France’s highest recognition, the Knight of the National Order of the Legion of Honour, for his service and bravery on D-Day.
Lattanzi, 90, as spry and chatty as a man decades younger, was caught up in handshakes and hugs at the Royal Canadian Legion Prince Edward Branch #91 in Langford on Saturday.
The room quickly quieted when Bea Leblanc, Legion Ways and Means Chair, gave out a short history of D-Day and read part of a letter from Philippe Zeller, France’s Ambassador to Canada.
“This distinction illustrates the profound gratitude that France would like to express to you … Through you, France remembers the sacrifice of all of your compatriots who came to liberate French soil, often losing their lives in the process,” Leblanc read.
Legion branch president Dave Bennett, vice-president Norm Scott and Leblanc presented Lattanzi with the medal, after which everyone in the room rose to their feet and broke out in applause.
Lattanzi, who lived in Langford for nearly 50 years but now resides in Brentwood Bay, remembered approaching on an old English freighter, then climbing down the side on rope ladders to boats below that carried them onto the beach and into chaos.
“We never saw nothing but smoke and guns,” he said. “I thought it was pretty scary.”
A mere 18 years old at the charge, Lattanzi was in an unnamed group of soldiers that provided infantry support for the other troops, and was enlisted in the 2nd Division, 4th Battery, 14th Field.
“We ended up with the 14th regiment, which was light artillery. I was on a 20mm machine gun,” he recalled.
Canada’s storming of the Juno Beach coastline commenced under the darkness of the early morning hours, and after a brief period of intense battle, the Canadians claimed the area.
According to Veterans Affairs Canada, 340 Canadians were killed in that first charge on D-Day, and another 547 were wounded. All told, approximately 5,500 Canadians lost their lives throughout the 10-week Battle of Normandy.
That siege marked a turning point for the Allies in the Second World War, and for soldiers like Lattanzi, will remain a day forever etched into their memories.
“I’ll never forget them beaches. Never, never,” he said, shaking his head.
The Legion of Honour seems an appropriate token to recognize the actions of a man who, along with thousands of fellow Canadian soldiers, showed extraordinary bravery and sacrifice to help liberate France and fight the German invasion so many years ago.
Since Lattanzi first received the medal via mail a few months ago, all his friends have taken to calling him ‘Sir Louie,’ he laughed. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” he added.
Retired servicemen Sgt. William Heil, Wing Commander James Edwards and Langford’s Cde. Alan Bodman were also awarded the Legion of Honour at separate ceremonies.