“I think we can all learn something from Garfield, we can do something kind and thoughtful for many people in many different ways.”
So said Nina Geraci on Friday, reading from her winning essay in the Pulaski Street Elementary School’s 9th Annual Garfield M. Langhorn Essay Contest.
Ms. Geraci was one of three winners selected in the contest, in which 289 sixth graders wrote essays about Private First Class Garfield Langhorn, the Riverhead man who was posthumously awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor after giving up his own life by jumping on a live grenade to save other soldiers in the Vietnam War on Jan. 15, 1969.
At the time, he was just 24 years old.
In addition to Ms. Geraci, the other two winners were Christine Thomas and Laniece Hutley, while Summer Scott got an honorable mention award.
As she does every year, Garfield Langhorn’s mother, Mary, was present Friday to give out the awards and to serve as one of the five judges for the contest.
“It’s beautiful,” Ms. Langhorn said afterwords. “There were more essays this year than ever before.
“It was really fantastic,” said Clarence Simpson, the vice president of the Suffolk Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America, who attends every year as well.
“Garfield graduated from this very school in 1967, filled with the vision of a life he planned to create,” said keynote speaker Trevor Hewitt, an English teacher at the school who is taking over the role of coordinator of the contest from Mary Anne Harroun, who has continued to help plan the contest despite having retired two years ago.
The Pulaski Street School building was the Riverhead high school when Garfield Langhorn attended. The current high school was built in 1971.
“I thought I knew what a sacrifice was, but when I learned about Garfield Langhorn, I truly understood what the word sacrifice means,” said Christine Thomas, reading from her prize-winning essay. “Garfield Langhorn sacrificed his life to save others.”
She described him as a “huge hero and an inspiration to others, especially people in Riverhead,” and she Garfield Langhorn inspires her to help others.
“He did it without looking for recognition or a pat on the back,” Laniece Hutley said of Pfc. Langhorn in her prize-winning essay. “He did it because probably somewhere in his childhood, his parents taught him that true friends are there for you through thick and thin.”