The auditorium in Pulaski Street School was silent as sixth-grader Kadarus Gainey approached the podium on the stage Friday morning and began to read his essay about how a local war hero who gave his life to save others in Vietnam inspired him.
“He was probably afraid but he still did his part for his country,” Kadarus said. “Someday, if I have to do that, I hope I will have the courage to do the same thing he did.”
This year, 262 sixth-graders — nearly three quarters of the whole class — wrote essays for the eighth annual PFC Garfield M. Langhorn essay contest. It was the most entries in the contest’s history, school officials said.
“Every year its grown,” said Mary Anne Harroun, a retired Riverhead teacher who helped start the contest. “I’m just so touched that it’s become a part of the Riverhead landscape. Each year the teachers look forward to it, each year the students look forward to it.”
The contest was formed to honor Pfc. Langhorn, a local war hero who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor after he jumped onto an enemy grenade to protect his fellow wounded soldiers in 1969.
Pfc. Langhorn, who attended Pulaski Street School when it was used as the town’s high school decades ago, has been honored with a library in the school and the town’s post office was named in his honor in 2010.
The contest asked students to describe how they are inspired by Pfc. Langhorn’s sacrifice. Principal David Densieski said the contest helps remind students of a part of their town’s heritage.
“I think especially in this day and age, it’s just so important that kids understand he was a hero here … amongst them,” he said.
Mary Langhorn, Pfc. Langhorn’s mother, attended the assembly and told each of the four winners that they did a “job well done.” She was given flowers and a copy of each of the winning essays as the crowd of teachers and students stood to applaud and cheer.
Ms. Harroud said the student’s essays show that the student’s have “heard the message” and have “walked a walk with Garfield.”
“Most kids my age don’t realize that the smallest things can make the biggest difference,” wrote Ella Malanga in her winning essay, “Donating your things to less fortunate, making money for causes, helping a neighbor clean up are all things I am a part of that don’t require a lot, other than a heart!”