More than seven decades after he served in World War II, John Faenza of Newington has received the highest possible military honor an American can receive from the French people.
With his wife, children, friends and former co-workers by his side, the 93-year-old Cedar Mountain Commons resident was awarded an honorary French Knight of the Legion of Honor.
“I’m speechless,” said Faenza, who was a sergeant in the U. S. Army during World War II, assigned to a bomber wing in France that helped liberate the country near the war’s end.
“The mission (of the bomber wing) was to conduct bombing missions throughout France and Germany,” said Wayne Rioux, veterans liaison for Hartford HealthCare. “His job was to fly into enemy territory while they were receiving flak, be successful in the mission and come back home,”
French Consul General Anne Claire Legendre traveled from New York to personally pin this medal on a tearful and surprised Faenza.
“I’m here to express our deepest gratitude for the risks that you took and the sacrifice that you were willing to make to liberate my country,” Legendre said. “This is the highest honor, created in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, who was the French emperor at the time. The support of the Allied forces coming from the U.S. was critical not only to our nation but to our lives personally.”
Faenza is a regular at the monthly veterans coffees held at Cedar Mountain Commons, led by Rioux – himself a veteran. It was Rioux who helped Faenza navigate the lengthy medal application process, which included approval from the French Defense Ministry, and required the signature of the sitting French President, Emmanuel Macron.
Faenza – who is also a 30-year veteran of the Hartford Police Department – was overwhelmed to the point of tears, yet modest and grateful for the recognition.
“I didn’t expect it, and I don’t think I deserve this much honor. But I appreciate everyone that came here to see this very much,” he said.