Coast Guard Academy's Class of 1976 celebrate one of their own
Paul Langlois doesn't know how he's still alive.
For the past nine years, due to a rare blood disease he has called amyloidosis, the 65-year-old has been fighting for his life. The disease, for which there is no cure, occurs when amyloid, an abnormal protein that is produced in a person's bone marrow, builds up in one or multiple organs. In Langlois' case, the protein initially began building up in his heart.
He's faced a long series of medical complications and procedures, including a heart transplant, a coma, kidney failure and the amputation of both his hands and his legs below the knees.
Despite this, Langlois, a 1976 graduate of the Coast Guard Academy and retired Coast Guard captain who spent 30 years in the service, has remained determined and hopeful, frequently providing health updates to his classmates, who, he said, through their countless emails, letters, text messages and visits over the years have helped him through his setbacks.
His positive disposition in the face of such adversity and his notable Coast Guard career led Langlois to be nominated as the academy's 2019 distinguished alumnus. The award recognizes alumni who serve as "outstanding examples of the type of character, courage, leadership, and well-rounded persons which the Academy seeks to attract and develop."
"His emails and everything are just so optimistic. No challenge is too much. His resilience is just amazing," said David Howell, a classmate who got the idea to nominate Langlois for the award.
He sent an email to other members of the Class of 1976 asking if they would like to nominate him, as well. The response, Howell said, was overwhelming.
The academy's alumni association, which solicits recommendations annually for the award, received more than 20 nominations for Langlois alone.
Langlois was recognized with the award Thursday night, and while the award itself is notable, the event does not tend to draw a big crowd of the awardee's classmates.
But in the case of Langlois, about 50 of his classmates came to the area from all over the country to extol and roast him at a luncheon they threw in his honor at the Stonington Harbor Yacht Club on Thursday afternoon, and for a dinner put on by the alumni association Thursday night.
Even more members of the class — close to 100 — donated to a travel fund to fly him and his wife, Linda, first-class from their home in Santa Rosa, Calif., to New London for the occasion, and to cover the cost of transportation and their hotel stay while in town.
His classmates ultimately donated more than $19,000 and they decided that the extra money should go toward helping cover Langlois' medical expenses.
Several of his classmates said Thursday that they see his recognition as an achievement to be celebrated by the entire class.
In addition to the distinguished alumnus award, Langlois, a champion rower at the academy, is also an inductee of the academy's Athletic Hall of Fame and the Hall of Heroes. Tara King, a spokeswoman for the alumni association, said it is extremely rare for a graduate to be recognized with all three awards, and that she thinks only one other person, retired Adm. James Loy, who served as commandant of the Coast Guard, has achieved such a feat.
Langlois is also a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross for his daring rescue on the night of Feb. 12, 1997, of two people from a sailing vessel off the Washington coast during a horrible storm, while serving as aircraft commander of a Coast Guard HH-65A helicopter. He said the award was "bittersweet" because the Coast Guard lost three crew members who went out on a 44-foot lifeboat to search for the sailboat.
Langlois spent most of his career in the Coast Guard as a pilot and aeronautical engineer. His last seven years in the Coast Guard, he worked in personnel, including as the commanding officer of personnel command.
His post-Coast Guard career was brief. He was working as the director of operations for an air ambulance company in Santa Rosa when he was taken to the emergency room for congestive heart failure. A doctor ultimately determined he had amyloidosis, a diagnosis he received in 2011.
He credits his wife, who is his full-time caregiver, with "getting me to the point where I'm at today."
"It gave me enough encouragement to keep trying to live because I think people, if they don't have a positive attitude when stricken with so many difficulties and pain, they may tend to give up, and I think that has a lot to do with staying alive — positive attitude and perseverance to overcome the pain and the difficulties," Langlois said.
He may not know how he's still alive, or how much longer he has to live, but he told his classmates that Thursday, with their support and the support of his wife, "I've been fighting for my life and I'm still here."
"I'm still here and I'm feeling pretty good," he said.