When an enemy hand grenade landed in the middle of his platoon, U.S. Army Private First Class Garfield M. Langhorn did not hesitate: The young man threw himself on the explosive device and sacrificed his own life to protect the lives of his fellow infantryman.
That heroic incident occurred more than four decades ago, and yet the quiet young man from Riverhead who gave up his life during the Vietnam War remains a legend among locals.
Some 500 people, including dignitaries, relatives, veterans and inspired residents, attended a September ceremony dedicating the Riverhead post office in honor of Pfc. Langhorn, a Medal of Honor recipient. The 20-year-old Riverhead native was killed in Vietnam in 1969.
Vietnam veteran Bob Elrose, who was at the event, called Pfc. Langhorn “the greatest hero to ever come out of Riverhead.” Gerald Slater of New York City painted a portrait of the young hero that now hangs in the post office. And Congressman Tim Bishop presented Pfc. Langhorn’s mother, Mary Langhorn, 86, of Riverhead, with a copy of the legislation bearing the signature of President Obama, as well as the pen Mr. Obama used to sign the legislation.
Pfc. Langhorn, who loved working on his car, playing guitar and being a part of his church, was remembered by many as a good Christian who regularly read the Bible and had a heart of gold.
According to a witness account, Pfc. Langhorn was standing between his platoon leader and wounded soldiers during an attack. Suddenly a ripping sound came out of the woods and a hand grenade landed next to him and the wounded.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Pfc. Langhorn threw his body onto the live explosive.
He was killed instantly.
Outside the post office, Ms. Langhorn said her son had not wanted to go to Vietnam but dutifully went into battle.
“If he were here, he would say, ‘I did what I had to do,’ ” she said.