Sixth-graders salute the flag at the start of the Garfield Langhorn essay contest award ceremony. Photo: Denise Civiletti

It was a year of milestones: the 50th anniversary of the death of PFC Garfield M. Langhorn in a Vietnamese jungle in January, and in May, the passing of the Riverhead soldier’s mother Mary.

The 15th annual Garfield Langhorn essay contest ceremony, was held Friday at Pulaski Street Elementary School — the first ceremony without without Mary Langhorn in attendance. Despite her move to Virginia several years ago to live near her daughters in her advanced age, Mary Langhorn traveled to Riverhead each October to attend the ceremony honoring her son’s heroism.

Mrs. Mary Langhorn at the PFC Garfield Langhorn essay contest ceremony in 2018. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Principal David Densieski asked the packed auditorium for a moment of silence in Mary Langhorn’s memory.

Garfield M. Langhorn Jr. was killed in action in Vietnam on Jan. 15, 1969, when he threw himself on a live grenade to save the lives of wounded comrades. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in April 1970, the nation’s highest military honor, in a ceremony at the White House. Langhorn is Riverhead Town’s only Congressional Medal of Honor recipient and one of only three Long Island residents to attain that honor for service during the Vietnam War.

The PFC Garfield M. Langhorn Memorial Committee and the Pulaski Street School sponsor an essay contest each year for sixth grade students, who answer the question, “How can I emulate and honor PFC Langhorn in my everyday life?”

Essay contest judges at the Oct. 18 ceremony.

The judging committee — Debbie Brown, Robert “Bubbie” Brown, Aramentis Brown, Linda Bullock, Ruby Edwards, Roxanne Hale, Venetia Lewis and Sarah Mayo — read 293 essays. They picked three winners: Isabella Umana, Dayami Carbajal and Addison Heck.

Each student read her essay aloud to the assembly of sixth grade classes, teachers, district administrators, members of the Suffolk County Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Patriot Guard Riders and guests of honor including Langhorn’s sisters Yvonne Reid and Anna Langhorn, his fiancee Joan Brown-Smith, niece Venetia Lewis, and cousins John and Monroe Hale.

“His actions came out of the heart,” Isabella said in her essay. She said she honors Langhorn by volunteering to help at her church, helping her mother at home, playing with her brother even when she doesn’t feel like it and other things that “come from the heart.”

“Even if what I do to honor PFC Garfield Langhorn is small, it is always the thought that counts,” she wrote.

“Garfield was like a superhero to me,” wrote Dayami. “His actions inspire me to help others…I am inspired by him and will keep his memory alive,” she wrote.

“I don’t have to throw myself on a grenade but I can honor Mr. Langhorn by helping kids in my class when they are struggling…I can help the elderly with household chores and I can read to the little kids at the library,” Addison wrote. “Thank you, Mr. Langhorn.”

2019 essay contest winners: Addison Heck, left, Isabella Umana and Dayami Carbajal. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The Riverhead High School NJROTC presented the colors. Elizabeth Guzman, age 11, performed “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The green-jacketed members of Vietnam Veterans of America, Suffolk County Chapter 11 filled two rows on one side of the auditorium.

“Our chapter has been so dedicated to his memory,” said Vietnam Veterans of America member Clarence Simpson, who grew close to Mary Langhorn over the years. “He is Suffolk County’s only Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient.”

RiverheadLOCAL photos by Denise Civiletti

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.