Councilman Ken Rothwell reads the proclamation decreeing the second Friday in October PFC Garfield M. Langhorn Day in Riverhead. He is surrounded by Langhorn family members and friends, school district officials and members of the Town Board. Photo: Alek Lewis

More than 53 years after Riverhead’s only Medal of Honor recipient, PFC Garfield M. Langhorn, made the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam to save the lives of his comrades by jumping on a grenade during an attempted rescue mission, the late U.S. Army-radioman received another posthumous honor yesterday: an official day celebrating his legacy in Riverhead.

The second Friday in the month of October will forever be remembered as PFC Garfield M. Langhorn Day, the Town Board decreed after it passed a resolution during its meeting yesterday. Langhorn Day coincides with the day Pulaski Street School has its annual ceremony to commemorate Langhorn’s life and reveal the winners in its annual student essay contest, initiated in 2004 in memory of the brave soldier. Langhorn attended Riverhead High School in the Pulaski Street building now used as the district’s intermediate school.

The Town Board also issued a proclamation celebrating Langhorn, with members of his family, the Vietnam Veterans of America and Langhorn’s Medal of Honor committee in attendance. Also in attendance was Jerry Slater, the artist who painted the portrait of Langhorn hanging in the PFC Garfield Langhorn Post Office building in Riverhead, a print of which is displayed at Town Hall and was on view during yesterday’s ceremony.

Council Member Ken Rothwell, the Town Board liaison to the Veterans Advisory Committee, thanked the Vietnam Veterans of America for their ongoing efforts to honor Langhorn. Clarence Simpson of the Vietnam Veterans of America, said “This is a day that’s been long overdue, not just maybe since 1969, but maybe 1970 or ’71.”

“It’s amazing that after 53 years, it’s never too late to say thank you,” Rothwell said.  “It’s never too late to pause for a moment, and I cannot think of any more poignant moment in time when Garfield Langhorn shouted out ‘somebody’s got to care’ and made the ultimate sacrifice for his comrades together there and gave his life so that others may live,” the councilman said. 

Rothwell said Langhorn’s sacrifice in the Vietnam War led to the survival of his fellow soldiers and the birth of future generations. “His fellow veterans got to come home, those that survived,” he said. “They came home and they have families and children and grandchildren and the legacy  — that’s all part of Garfield — all those people that he saved. I guarantee every one of them every day will think of him and thank him for his sacrifice.”

The Riverhead Town Board with Langhorn’s nephew, Joseph Garfield Reid, niece Tanya Marshall, portrait artist Jerry Slater and Langhorn’s fiancée Joan Brown-Smith, with a print of Langhorn’s official portrait, painted by Slater, which hangs in the Riverhead Post Office, named for Langhorn in 2010. Photo: Alek Lewis

Langhorn was born on Sept. 10, 1948 in Cumberland, Virginia. He was a 1967 graduate of Riverhead High School and worked for Suffolk County before he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1968.

On Jan. 15, 1969, Langhorn, then 20, went on a mission with his company — Troop C, of the 7th Squadron, 17th Cavalry, 1st Aviation Brigade — to rescue two pilots of a Cobra helicopter shot down by enemy fire on a heavily timbered slope in Pleiku Province, according to Langhorn’s Medal of Honor citation. 

Langhorn provided radio coordination to aircraft overhead. After both aviators were found dead and the men were taking the bodies to a pickup site, they came under intense fire and became surrounded by North Vietnamese soldiers in camouflaged bunkers. Langhorn radioed for help from gunships and provided cover fire for the wounded. After darkness fell, it was impossible for gunships to give accurate support and the aggressors began to probe the perimeter. An enemy hand grenade landed in front of Langhorn and a few feet from wounded soldiers.

A fellow soldier reported that Langhorn’s last words before throwing his body on the grenade was: “Someone’s got to care.”

For his sacrifice and service to the United States, Langhorn, who is buried in Riverhead Cemetery, received the Medal of Honor — the highest and most prestigious personal military decoration — from President Richard Nixon in 1970. Langhorn also received the Purple Heart, which is awarded to members of the military wounded or killed in action while in military service.

Langhorn has several honors around town, including a bronze bust in front of Town Hall erected in 1993. Other honors in his name include the United States Post Office on West Main Street, the library in Pulaski Street School, the veterans wall in Riverhead High School, a road in Calverton National Cemetery, and Maple Avenue, the road where Langhorn lived in Riverhead.

Members of Langhorn’s family, including nephew Joseph Garfield Reid, niece Tanya Marshall and Joan Brown-Smith, his fiancée before he left for Vietnam, were in attendance. 

Monroe Hale, Garfield Langhorn’s cousin, grows emotional talking about the importance of Langhorn’s sacrifice. “The people who wear these uniforms are the ones who give us the freedoms, the civil liberties that we have.” Photo: Alek Lewis

“At this time, how things are going in this country, it’s good to be here,” said Monroe Hale, Langhorn’s first cousin. “It doesn’t matter your race, creed, religion, political party or whatever, to honor a person — my cousin — who was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of this country. And to see what’s happening in the country today. People are torn. Fascism is coming in, it’s coming to our environment. We’re talking about things like that as opposed to working together.”

“We say we honor, or a politician says ‘we honor our military’ and ‘thank God for our military.’ And they’re not the ones that fight the wars. They’re not the ones that are making the sacrifices. And they are part of tearing this country down, the whole fiber of this country,” Hale said.

“The people who wear these uniforms are the ones who give us the freedoms, the civil liberties that we have,” Hale said through tears. “And I would just hope that whatever your political persuasion is that when you consider pulling the lever, consider all the people who have sacrificed their lives to keep the Union together, and don’t let anybody tear it apart.”

Patrick Burke, the principal of Pulaski Street School, speaks on behalf of the Riverhead Central School District about the importance of honoring Garfield Langhorn in the community. Langhorn is celebrated every year at Pulaski with a ceremony and an essay contest on the second Friday in October, which is now PFC Garfield M. Langhorn Day in Riverhead. Photo: Alek Lewis

Pulaski Street Principal Patrick Burke said that Langhorn is “very important to our community and to our building.”

“He’s a true hero, not only for Long Island, he’s a true hero for our building — and we are so grateful,” Burke said. “So I just want to say thank you for doing this for us, for the community, for the district, and most importantly for the family. And I think we’re all kind of family after all this.”

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