This morning I am honored to speak to you about Private First Class Garfield M. Langhorn. Our mission today is to pay homage to PFC Langhorn as an American hero and as our hometown hero.
What is a hero? According to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, a hero is a person admired for courage or nobility, especially in war.
Garfield Langhorn went to school right here in Riverhead, where his favorite subject was math. As a high school student, Garfield walked through the halls of this building. He sat in the cafeteria each day to eat his lunch. He ran the track. He sat in the seats of this auditorium for assemblies. He stood at attention to pledge to the flag, never knowing that his allegiance and his loyalty to his country would be tested in only a few short years. Garfield graduated from this very school in 1967, filled with the vision of a life he planned to create. After graduation, he gained employment as a computer processor for the early computers at the county center. He moved closer to adulthood as he proposed marriage to his girlfriend, Joan, and became engaged. But in less than two years after his high school graduation, his life and his vision would end.
In 1968, Garfield was drafted into the United States Army. He began his required military career on October 26, 1968, and was sent to the jungles of Vietnam as a radio operator with the 7th squadron of the 17th Air Cavalry. It was in those jungles that he would demonstrate true courage and nobility. On January 15, 1969, less than three months after arriving in Vietnam, PFC Langhorn’s platoon was deployed on a search and rescue mission to locate two fellow comrades of C troop whose helicopter was shot down. The soldiers of C troop navigated their way through an unknown jungle using only geographic coordinates to locate the hillside crash site. Upon their arrival, they found that the helicopter crewmen had died. The mission of C troop was now to recover the dead and move them to a landing site where their bodies could be transported home to their loved ones. During this recovery mission, the soldiers of C troop came under heavy enemy fire. Several soldiers were wounded during this attack. PFC Langhorn and his fellow soldiers encircled those men who had been shot to shield them from further injury. As the radioman, it was PFC Langhorn’s job to call for help and assistance. As he radioed for help and simultaneously fired his weapon at the rapidly approaching enemy, a grenade landed a few feet in front of PFC Langhorn and the wounded soldiers. Without thought for his own safety PFC Langhorn threw himself on top of the grenade and absorbed the blast with his own body. He sacrificed his own life to protect the lives of fellow soldiers who were already injured.
Because PFC Langhorn demonstrated extraordinary heroism he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. This medal is presented to the recipient, or to the family members of a deceased recipient, by the President of the United States, in the name of the Congress. The Congressional Medal of Honor is only awarded to our nation’s bravest military personnel for extreme acts of heroism. It is the highest award for valor or bravery in action that can be given to an American. PFC Langhorn was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on April 7, 1970 when the medal was presented to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Langhorn, by President Richard M. Nixon. PFC Langhorn is only one of three men from Long Island who were awarded this medal during the Vietnam War. He is Riverhead’s one and only Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.
The story of PFC Langhorn’s heroism continues to live. He was honored by his former army unit, the 7th squadron of the 17th Air Cavalry, also known by the self appointed name of “Ruthless Riders.” At Fort Campbell Kentucky, a conference building was dedicated to honor the heroism of PFC Langhorn and a fellow Ruthless Rider, Sergeant Ray McKibben, as Congressional Medal of Honor recipients from the 7th Squadron of the 17th Air Cavalry. The plaque on the conference center, that bears their names, honors their service, their courage and their nobility. This building stands as a physical and permanent tribute to the heroism of PFC Langhorn. But that is not the only tribute to PFC Langhorn at Fort Campbell. Every soldier who is in the 7th squadron of the 17th Air Cavalry must know the name of PFC Langhorn, his unit, where he was stationed in Vietnam, his job description, the time period he served, and of course, the story of his heroism. The simple act of repeated recitation by every soldier ensures that the name of PFC Garfield Langhorn will always remain in the hearts and minds of every Ruthless Rider.
While his memory is kept alive in the hearts and minds of those who once served by his side, and by those who currently serve this nation in places near and far, the heroism of PFC Langhorn is also remembered right here in Riverhead. He is honored with a bronze statue that stands in front of the Riverhead Town Hall on the corner of Main Street and Howell Ave. The statue is decorated with a wreath each year on Veteran’s Day. In 2010, by order of Congress, the Riverhead post office was named after him. In 2011 the Pulaski Street School Library was dedicated to honor PFC Langhorn’s memory. Each year this essay contest is held for the sixth graders of Pulaski Street School to honor the heroism of PFC Langhorn, and to keep his memory alive. In this contest, students are asked to define how they can demonstrate the traits of heroism: courage and nobility in their daily lives. Let us remember to celebrate the heroic act of PFC Garfield Langhorn not only today, when the winners of this contest are announced, but everyday. Let us all, students and staff, honor the memory of PFC Langhorn by finding opportunities to demonstrate courage and nobility each day. Let us all find the courage to right a wrong, to speak for the voiceless, to protect the defenseless. Let us each remember to honor our personal responsibilities and commitments; and to offer service to our country, our community, our families, and to one another. Twenty year old Garfield Langhorn gave his life to protect and preserve the lives of others. His unselfish act made him a hero. Let us honor the heroic action of Private First Class Garfield M. Langhorn by finding the hero within each of us.
Trevor Hewitt is a music teacher at Pulaski Street School. He wrote this essay for ceremonies at the 10th Annual Garfield Langhorn Essay Contest at Pulaski Street School Oct. 10, 2014.
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