The family of Tech. Sgt. Dashan Briggs at the unveiling of a banner bearing his image today on Main Street. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The little girl cried out softly “Daddy, Daddy” and, in a minute, tears flowed down her cheeks and she buried her face in her mother’s hair.

Ava Briggs was only a year old when her father was killed in a military helicopter crash in western Iraq in March 2018. Her brother Jayden was two.

Jayden, perched in the arms of a family member, pulled the covering off a banner bearing the image of the children’s father, Tech. Sgt. Dashan Briggs. The unveiling was part of a ceremony hosted this afternoon by the Town of Riverhead, which is honoring hometown heroes with banners along Main Street.

The two young children, their mother Rebecca and their great-grandfather Eli, who raised Dashan, are the embodiment of the costs of war.

Jayden and Ava Briggs

Casualties of war have a way of growing abstract over time. The stories of heroism and self-sacrifice, like that of PFC. Garfield Langhorn, whose visage appears on the other “hometown heroes” banner unveiled today, become etched in a community’s collective memory. Langhorn’s heroic actions — he threw himself on a live grenade to save the lives of soldiers injured in an ambush in the Vietnamese jungle in January 1969 — become a story learned by every student at Pulaski Street School.

For the vast majority of Riverhead residents who never knew him, Langhorn the man has merged with Langhorn the legend. The pain of his loss was permanently etched on the faces of his parents, now both deceased. Fifty-two years after his death, the number of people who knew him in the flesh is dwindling.

But for the family and friends of a man cut down in the prime of life a few years ago, the pain of his loss is still raw.

Even for a 4-year-old child, who didn’t expect to be confronted with her Daddy’s smiling face on a Main Street sidewalk this afternoon.

Ava’s reaction to the banner bearing her father’s photo moved Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar to tears.

It drives home the importance of remembering and honoring those who served in the nation’s military — in war as well as in times of peace.

The Riverhead Veteran’s Advisory Committee came up with the idea of the “Hometown Heroes” banner project, which aims to hang a banner honoring a veteran on every street light pole on Main Street.

Wedel signs donated the Langhorn and Briggs banners unveiled today. Sign shop owner Lisa Drozd said it was the most rewarding project she’s ever been involved in.

“Just getting to know the families and hear their stories,” Drozd said. “It was wonderful.”

To date, Wedel Signs has made 29 banners for the town. There are 29 light poles along Main Street, she said, so there’s an opportunity to display 29 more banners.

Aguiar thanked the Riverhead Veterans Advisory Committee for their effort in bringing the “hometown heroes” banner project to fruition.

The project took two years to come to life, committee chairperson and Riverhead VFW Post Commander Thomas Najdzion said.

“These banners represent proud examples of character, honor and commitment to our community and to our country,” Aguiar said.

“These soldier depicted on our streets are our heroes. God bless their families for their sacrifices.”

Banners are still available through sponsorships at a cost of $225 each. Applications may be found on the Town of Riverhead website, or on the Riverhead BID website.

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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.