Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

France Says Thanks for Heroism Long Ago

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

France Says Thanks for Heroism Long Ago

Article excerpt

PATERSON -- More than 70 years after Leo Philippi crossed the Atlantic Ocean and took his place in history as Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, the French consul general in New York crossed the Hudson River to deliver a medal to the 96-year-old Little Falls man.

"We will never forget what we owe you," said Consul General Bertrand Lortholary before he presented Philippi with the medal of the French Legion of Honor, the nation's highest honor for his service in the liberation of France in World War II.

Surrounded by a dozen friends and family members, some traveling from as far as Tennessee to meet in the Paterson office of Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., Philippi said he was speechless and it was the first time he was "tongue tied."

After hearing accolades from Lortholary and Pascrell, the nonagenarian quipped about his service: "I hope I don't have to do it again," which got a hearty laugh from those crowded into the room.

Philippi retired from his part-time job as a greeter at the ShopRite in Little Falls in March. During his time working there he and fellow Army veteran Carmen Fornarotto, 79, of Bloomfield, shared stories of their past.

Fornarotto knew his friend had served in the D-Day invasion with the 4th Infantry Division. So when he saw a newspaper story about a local veteran receiving the Legion of Honor medal for his service in World War II, he thought that Philippi deserved the same honor. He called Pascrell's office for help.

The congressman's staff gathered Philippi's service records and sent them to the French consulate in New York, asking that the verification be accelerated because of Philippi's advanced age.

The Legion of Honor medal cannot be bestowed posthumously, a consulate official said, so French President Francois Hollande has made it a priority to award it to aging World War II vets.

Archives show that at least a dozen North Jersey veterans of both World War I and World War II have received the medal since the late 1990s. It was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, and since then at least 93,000 French and foreign soldiers and veterans received it, according to the consulate website. …

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