09/30/10 12:00am
09/30/2010 12:00 AM

TIM GANNON PHOTO
Riverhead Town residents will be faced with a 4.3 percent hike
in taxes if the Town Board approves Supervisor Sean Walter’s
proposed 2011 budget, despite the fact that the tentative plan
features a 1.5 percent reduction in spending.

Riverhead Town residents will be faced with a 4.3 percent property tax hike if the Town Board approves Supervisor Sean Walter’s proposed 2011 budget, despite the fact that the tentative plan features a 1.5 percent reduction in spending.
The supervisor’s proposed $50 million budget, which would eliminate six full-time and seven part-time jobs, is also contingent upon the town’s police unions’ members approving a lag payroll. Without it, the tax rate increase would climb to over 5 percent, according to Mr. Walter, who said the lag payroll savings would amount to about $230,000.
Among other highlights in the budget are a “dramatic cutback” in police overtime, Mr. Walter said.
The actual amount budgeted for police overtime in Mr. Walter’s budget proposal is $600,000, which is lower than the $660,000 budgeted in the adopted 2010 budget, but higher than the $575,000 in the amended 2010 budget that reflects mid-year cutbacks made by the town. But all three of those numbers are lower than the actual annual amounts for police overtime since 2003, when the lowest annual amount spent was $720,000. The highest was $839,729 in 2005, according to town records.
Dixon Palmer, the president of the town’s Police Benevolent Association, said it’s hard to tell if that overtime number can be met, because officers responding to homicides and accidents can’t just leave when their shifts are over.
The proposed cuts in overtime for all other town departments totaled about $135,000 less than the current year’s budget.
As for the lag payroll, in the which the salary savings would be paid to employees when they retire, Mr. Palmer said the PBA’s leadership is recommending that the members accept it, and ballots have been mailed out. He expects a verdict toward the end of next week.
Town department heads and nonunion employees also agreed to a lag payroll, the supervisor said. Town finance administrator Bill Rothaar said these employees can either take a lag payroll or 10 unpaid days.
Mr. Walter, who unveiled the budget last Thursday, called the proposed cutbacks “a vital step in our attempt to get government to live within its means.”
The 4.3 percent tax hike would be equal to an increase of about $94 annually for a Riverhead resident whose house is valued at the townwide average of about $330,000.
The town portion of the property tax bill accounts for about 23 percent of the total, with school taxes being about 54 percent, town officials said.
The cuts were needed to offset a $6.9 million budget deficit that Mr. Walter blamed on the use of one-time revenues by previous administrations. Another big factor, he said, was the $50 million landfill reclamation project, which went way over budget several years ago, and accounts for $4.3 million in debt service in his proposed budget.
“If we didn’t have that issue, with the cuts we made, you would be getting a tax decrease,” he said in Town Hall.
The budget also proposes to use about $2.6 million of the town’s $7 million surplus to offset tax increases.
Mr. Walter said the cuts were needed.
“Let’s face it, our budget is so far out of control we cannot tax our way out of our problem,” he said. “We have to cut the cost of government and that has a cost in terms of people and families, but we must swallow that bitter medicine.”
The full Town Board must review the budget and adopt a final spending plan by Nov. 20.
Matt Hattorff, president of the town Civil Service Employees Association, which represents most non-police employees in town, expressed disappointment with the proposed layoffs: “Here’s a guy who campaigned that he would not balance the budget on the backs of the employees, and now, here he is, balancing the budget on the backs of the employees.”
Mr. Walter said he had no choice but to lay off employees because the CSEA would not agree to either a 5 percent salary cut or a lag payroll.
The police’s lag payroll, should the unions agree to it, amounts to about $230,000, Mr. Walter said. It was uncertain when the two unions representing police would vote on the lag payroll.
The town also has offered a voluntary retirement incentive program to induce older, higher-paid employees to retire. Mr. Walter said one employee has taken advantage of this program and another three have expressed interest. In two of the cases, the employees in question also plan to continue working part-time. Mr. Walter said this will be “a tremendous savings” to the town.
In the one case that is finalized, building department coordinator Sharon Klos will be working 17 and a half hours a week for $30,000 per year, instead of 35 hours per week for $81,415.
As for revenues, the supervisor said they were projected to be “flat” and based on actual 2009 figures and half-year 2010 figures.
Adding together the projected fees for the planning board, building department, site plan, justice court fines, and mortgage recording tax, which are among the largest income sources in the budget, the projected 2011 total of $2.781 million in Mr. Walter’s budget is slightly lower than the $2.784 million anticipated in the 2010 budget, but higher than the $2.11 million actually received in 2009.
“The revenues projected for 2009 were about $900,000 short,” Mr. Walter said. He had criticized the revenue projections his predecessor, Phil Cardinale, made in this year’s budget, including the sale of the dilapidated East Lawn building and a fine in a lawsuit for allegedly illegally excavating on Route 58. Those revenues totaled about $800,000, and aren’t expected to materialize, Mr. Walter said.
One revenue item that is proposed to increase greatly in Mr. Walter’s budget is rental income for wireless communications. That number is projected to increase from $100,000 in the 2010 budget to $305,500 in the 2011 budget, as the town has awarded contracts to wireless companies to build cell towers on three town-owned properties on which they will lease space.
Despite the cuts two Town Board members, George Gabrielsen and Jodi Giglio, say they don’t think the budget is low enough. They both want to bring the tax rate increase under four percent, which they say would require about $100,000 more in cuts.
Mr. Walter said he’s not sure the budget can be cut any further.
tgannon@timesreview.com

09/30/10 12:00am

VERA CHINESE PHOTO
Drew Achilich presents Horton Avenue flood victims Ivory Brown
(left) and Linda Hobson with a check for $4,122.23. The money
was raised through T-shirt sales.

Six months after a late March storm flooded a dozen homes on Horton
Avenue in Riverhead, six families will most likely never return to
their homes and some are still without a functioning water heater.
But it appears Riverhead Town is doing its part to find a long-term
solution to persistent flooding in that area by seeking a $3.6 million
competitive federal grant to purchase the properties that were worst
hit by the late March storm.
Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said the town is submitting an
application today, Thursday, for a grant from the Federal Emergency
Management Agency to buy the properties. The town will submit the grant
to the State Emergency Management Office which then passes the application on to the federal government.
“The ultimate goal is to acquire nine properties for a total of 12
homes and convert that land into constructed wetlands,” Chief
Hegermiller said adding that half the homes are currently occupied.
The town will  know whether or not it is awarded the grant next April, Chief Hegermiller said.
Chief Hegermiller said the town is also expecting about $600,000 in
federal money for reimbursement of emergency work done during and after
the storm. He could not say when the town expects that money to be
disbursed.
On a smaller, more local level, a Baiting Hollow teen presented flood
victims with a check totaling $4,122.23 at Riverhead High School Wednesday evening, money raised
by T-shirts sold in the school and around town.
The white T-shirts with blue lettering were designed by Riverhead High
School junior Drew Achilich. Drew said the T-shirt
sales, which are ongoing, went far better than he expected.
Horton Avenue flood victim turned community activist Linda Hobson said the money will be used to replace damaged belongings.
“It’s a great feeling,” Drew said. “To do as much to make Riverhead a better place.”
vchinese@timesreview.com

09/30/10 12:00am

TROY GUSTAVSON PHOTO Jennifer Maertz (right) seeks to unseat
State Sen. Kenneth LaValle in November. With her at a campaign
gathering Sunday in Orient are Jeri Woodhouse (left) and former
candidate Regina Calcaterra.

Newly anointed Democratic state Senate candidate Jennifer Maertz wants
voters to know she’s no placeholder for Regina Calcaterra. In November,
Ms. Maertz, 34, whose name will appear on both the Democratic and
Working Families lines, will face Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port
Jefferson). A veteran in Albany, he has held the seat since 1976.
“I
would never get into this as a placeholder,” said Ms. Maertz, a Rocky
Point resident. “Now I have the torch and I’m carrying it forward.”
Ms.
Maertz was a member of Ms. Calcaterra’s team, joining her on the
campaign trail until the former candidate was knocked off the ballot in
August after a judge agreed with a Republican challenger that she failed
to meet a requirement for five years of continuous residency in New
York.
Speaking to a group of supporters in Orient Sunday
afternoon, Ms. Calcaterra said of her former campaign worker, “She knows
the concerns of district residents because she campaigned with me.
People were talking about their dreams and wishes and she heard it.”
“We
could not find doors where people weren’t upset with Albany,” Ms.
Maertz said at the Orient event of her door-to-door campaigning with Ms.
Calcaterra. “They know what’s going on and they don’t like what’s going
on,” she said. “We need to root out waste” she added, and provide
“transparency” in government.
“It’s the same campaign,” Ms.
Maertz said, asserting that she and Ms. Calcaterra had identical views
on issues. They share a belief that Albany needs ethics reforms; a
determination to revise the school aid formula that penalizes Long
Islanders, who educate 17 percent of state students but get 12 percent
of state school funds; a dedication to bringing jobs back to Long
Island; and a commitment to a pro-choice agenda and marriage equality.
What
Ms. Maertz lacks, she admitted, is name recognition with voters. That’s
why she’s making the rounds of her district, which includes both the
North and South forks, Riverhead and eastern Brookhaven. Ms. Maertz,
like Ms. Calcaterra, is a litigating attorney for the GEICO insurance
company. She got an MBA degree after earning her law degree because she
thought having management and leadership skills would help with her law
career, she said. She has worked with children in classrooms as a
paraprofessional, served on the North Shore Youth Council Board and as a
member of the Rocky Point Civic Association and is vice chair of the
Brookhaven Democratic Committee.
Ms. Maertz previously dipped a
toe into elective politics in Brookhaven, seeking the Democratic
nomination to run for Town Board in 2009. But party leaders gave the nod
to John Leonard, an aide to state Sen. Brian Foley (D-Blue Point). This
year, she answered a call that came first from those same party leaders
who had abandoned her a year ago, then from Ms. Calcaterra. They needed
someone who could hit the ground running, Ms. Maertz said.
Ms.
Calcaterra said she had abandoned further legal appeals in her candidacy
case because she wanted to give voters an alternative to Senator
LaValle. If she had persisted with the litigation, there would have been
no time to run another candidate in her place, she said.
“Anyone who challenges the status quo is a threat to the Republican Party,” Ms. Calcaterra said.
The GOP did challenge Ms. Maertz’s place on the ballot, but this time the court ruled in favor of the candidate.
Ms.
Calcaterra turned over her campaign office in Rocky Point to Ms. Maertz
and many of her former staff members are on board with the new
candidate.
While Ms. Calcaterra acknowledges she still has an
interest in seeking public office some day, she’s not focused on any
particular spot at this time, she said.
“I hope she does win,”
Ms. Calcaterra said of her successor, pledging that if Ms. Maertz is
elected in November, she will back her again for the seat in two years.
jlane@timesreview.com

09/30/10 12:00am

Youth Court members sought

Students in grades 8 through 12 are invited to an open house on Wednesday, Oct. 13, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. to learn about becoming a member of the Town of Riverhead Youth Court, which is operated by the Juvenile Aid Bureau. The open house will be held in the town police department building on Howell Avenue.

Student attendees, who must be accompanied by a parent or guardian, will learn about the goals and operation of the Youth Court and the benefits of serving, which include experience with real legal cases, improvement in public speaking and debate skills and the opportunity to earn scholarship money and provide a valuable public service as well as references for college and employment, Call 727-3200, ext. 273 or 377, with questions.

Moose Lodge makes donation

The Riverhead Moose Lodge has announced that its annual fishing tournament raised $4,675 this year for the Suffolk County/EAC Child Advocacy Center, which assist abused children. In addition, the lodge approved the donation “Tommy Moose” stuffed animals to children served by the center. The toys were delivered by tournament chairman Capt. Ray Kelly, who said staff at the center “do an outstanding job” and that he hoped the stuffed animals would make the children “very happy.”

Help out with ESL program

Volunteers are needed for Feeding the Mind, an ESL program that offers classes in basic English for local immigrant workers. A volunteer orientation will take place at 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 25, at First Congregational Church of Riverhead.

Knowledge of Spanish and teaching or tutoring experience are helpful but definitely not required.

Classes will be conducted at the church Monday and Thursday evenings from 6 to 7:45 p.m. beginning Nov. 8, 2010, and running through March 10, 2011. Call 369-3236 for information.

Be more energy aware

Saturday, Oct. 2, is Riverhead Energy Awareness Day. Presented by the Town of Riverhead and the North Fork Environmental Council, the event aims to encourage residents and businesses to work together to learn about and implement more effective, cost-efficient alternative energy solutions.

The day will feature demonstrations by local businesses of energy-efficient cars, appliances, construction materials along the Peconic riverfront from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. You can also visit solar-powered local homes and ride free on the solar-powered boat SunCatcher, built by GoSolar of Aquebogue.

At 7 p.m., Isidore Doroski of Riverhead’s Energy Advisory Committee will give a presentation about “peak oil” at the Senior Nutrition Center in Aquebogue.

To register for the house tour, call 727-2224 or visit GoSolar.com. For other information, call the Town Board coordinator at 727-3200, ext. 253.

Artist fellowships available

Individual artists over age 25 who live and work in New York State are invited to apply for unrestricted cash fellowships of $7,000 from the New York Foundation for the Arts. Students and those who have received fellowships within the last five years are ineligible.

Applications for this round of grants will be accepted until Nov. 30 from artists working in crafts/sculpture, digital or electronic arts, printmaking, drawing or book arts, as well as poets and nonfiction writers. For complete details, visit nyfa.org or e-mail fellowships@nyfa.org;

Holiday customs sought

For the 2010 Times/Review Newspapers’ special Holiday Guide supplement, we are looking for information about family holiday customs for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s. We are particularly interested in customs that pertain to children and that might be ethnic in nature. Please submit information by Monday, Oct. 18. E-mail: lpeters@timesreview.com. Mail: Lee Peters, Times/Review Newspapers, P.O. Box 1500, Mattituck, NY 11952. Fax: 298-3287.

Enter your winter photos

Amateur photographers are invited to enter up to three photos in the 2010 Holiday Guide Winter Photo Contest. All scenes must be local, from Calverton to Orient Point, or on Shelter Island. Chosen photos will be published in Times/Review Newspapers’ Holiday Guide supplement on Nov. 18. No professionals, please. Entries must be received by Monday, Oct. 18.

We will accept prints, CDs or DVDs (jpgs). (Please do not send by e-mail without calling in advance.) Send duplicate prints; photos cannot be returned. Mail prints or discs to Lee Peters, Times/Review Newspapers, P.O. Box 1500, Mattituck 11952 or drop off at our office, 7785 Main Road, Mattituck. With each photo, include the location of the scene along with your name, address, phone number and/or e-mail address. Questions? E-mail: Lee Peters, lpeters@timesreview.com or call Lee Peters at 354-8048.

Explore the art of prayer

The Spiritual Renewal Center at First Parish Church will offer an eight-week exploration of the art of praying and meditating with scripture.

The study group, part of the center’s Prayer, Bible Study and Faith Sharing initiative, begins Thursday, Oct. 7, at 7:30 p.m. at The Parsonage, 7 Lagoon Court, Jamesport.

List your holiday events

Listings of local events taking place from Nov. 18 through the winter are now being accepted for the 2010 Times/Review Holiday Guide. To be considered, listings must be received by Friday, Oct. 22. Events should be nonprofit or charity-related and open to the general public.

E-mail: lpeters@timesreview.com. Mail: Lee Peters, Times/Review Newspapers, P.O. Box 1500, Mattituck, NY 11952. Fax: 298-3287.

Birthright opens in Southold

Birthright of Peconic has opened a new North Fork office in the Feather Hill complex in Southold. The phone number is 876-5138; hotline is 1-800-550-4900.

Giving Guide listings sought

Charitable organizations and facilities serving residents of the North Fork, eastern North Shore and Shelter Island are eligible for inclusion in the Giving Guide in Times/Review Newspapers’ 2010 Holiday Guide.

If not listed in 2009, submit the following information by Friday, Oct. 22: name of organization/facility, address, phone number, website if any, brief description of services, where and when donations are accepted and what is most needed during the holidays and the rest of the year. If listed in 2009, you may submit any changes.

E-mail: lpeters@timesreview.com. Mail: Lee Peters, Times/Review Newspapers, P.O. Box 1500, Mattituck, NY 11952. Fax: 298-3287.

09/30/10 12:00am

Peconic Public Broadcasting, the group that runs East End public radio station 88.3 FM, has raised the money to buy the station’s license and equipment from Long Island University.

The group will make the final $637,000 cash payment through a combination of donations and a loan from Bridgehampton National Bank, the station and the university announced in a statement Tuesday afternoon. The money to pay back the loan will be raised through the station’s capital campaign.

PPB has already made down payments totalling $213,000 on the $850,000 owed the university since the group, headed by radio station staffers, beat out two other suitors seeking to purchase the station last October. At that time, PPB signed a $2.4 million deal to buy the station for $850,000 cash, with the remainder to be paid as services to the university in the form of technical support for LIU’s radio station, WCWP in Brookville.

The university, which has owned 88.3 FM for more than 20 years, had given the group Sept. 28 as the final deadline for making the $850,000 payment. The previous deadline was June 30, which has since been extended three more times at PPB’s request.

The final deal requires the approval of the Federal Communications Commission, which LIU expects to receive within the next few weeks.

“We are pleased that this transaction may now be completed and are heartened to know that the rich tradition of community-based public radio on Long Island’s East End, which the university has proudly cultivated for decades, will continue to flourish,” said LIU president David J. Steinberg.

“We have reached an important milestone in the community’s effort to save local public radio,” said veteran station manager Wally Smith. “This is one more example of the East End community working together at every level to preserve an important community resource.”

LIU had run the radio station from its Southampton campus, which it sold to SUNY Stony Brook in 2006, for more than two decades. LIU announced its intention to sell the station last year, citing $1 million in annual losses for running it, including rent the school had been paying to Stony Brook.

vchinese@timesreview.com

09/30/10 12:00am

Sometimes when you’re looking all around for news, you miss the story happening right under your nose. Times/Review staff members were shocked last week to learn that our health insurance coverage is changing as of Oct. 1 and our initial choice was between two policies — one that would require an employee to spend $2,850 out of pocket and the other, $3,000 before any benefits were paid by the insurer.

A third option has now been added to the mix and it’s a more traditional health insurance policy, although premiums for most people and co-pays are higher.

The original options offered would provide no payment for anything except an annual physical examination and a few “wellness” procedures such as mammograms. No doctor’s office coverage, no prescription drug coverage — essentially, nothing until an employee satisfied that $2,850 or $3,000 deductible.

What’s happening to us is typical of what’s happening throughout our community and, indeed, throughout the nation.

Is this what the hard-fought debate over health care reform gave us?

Our agent blamed Obamacare and said insurers are saddled with high costs to pay claims, so they have dramatically raised their premiums. That’s his political view.

Before you shed any tears for the insurers, take a look at their profits. WellPoint, Empire’s parent company, turned a profit of $2.5 billion in 2008, and that was considered a bad year. UnitedHealth Group, Oxford’s parent, anticipates revenues of $93 billion by the end of the current fiscal year. And Emblem, the company offering that $3,000 deductible policy, is still reporting profits, although smaller than the giants, since it’s a relatively new entrant into the for-profit marketplace.

Emblem is a for-profit entity that took over two nonprofits, GHI and HIP, in 2007, and is gradually increasing profits. WellPoint and UnitedHealth continue to gobble up smaller companies and see their profits grow.

No, friends, the insurers aren’t going broke paying our claims. And when health care reform is fully effective in 2014, the companies will gain an estimated 36 million to 50 million new customers paying their premiums.

If you didn’t closely follow the debates over the health care package, you might conclude that higher premiums and co-pays and fewer covered services were President Obama’s gift to insurers.

But what the president and others who favored health care reform sought was to stop the escalating costs of premiums while extending coverage to more people. But among the compromises necessary to get any reform package passed was to agree to delay caps on premiums until 2014.

You can bet the for-profit insurers, concerned about that 2014 reality, weren’t going to sit still in the interim. What they’re doing this year and will continue to do unless stopped is to escalate premiums and cut services every year until 2014.

The one bright spot on the horizon for New Yorkers is a move in the New York State Legislature to begin capping those premium increases next year. It’s too early to say how that will fare with our state legislators, but if you care about what this means to your pocketbook, it’s time to wake up and watch what’s happening in Albany.

Yes, some of the reforms will cost insurers more money, but the Department of Health and Human Services estimates that the average premium increase to cover those costs should be between 1 percent and 2 percent. That’s hardly the big increase most of us are facing this year.

New York State Insurance Department data shows that since 2000, premiums for New Yorkers have averaged a 97 percent increase. I’m guessing that your income from 2000 to today hasn’t increased by 97 percent.

Is Obamacare perfect? Hardly. As one of my colleagues said the day we were told about our insurance options, this wouldn’t be happening if we had a single-payer system. And before you start screaming about government-controlled health care, just ask your friends who are on Medicare how they like the program and their benefits. Those I’ve spoken with are quite happy, thank you.

The president and Congress were able to take only baby steps this year because the fear-mongers won the verbal battle that forced so many compromises to dilute the final package.

It’s time to put political philosophy aside and look at real consequences of what’s happening to make top company executives and shareholders richer and the rest of us a lot poorer.

09/30/10 12:00am

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO
Chef instructors Jerry Dicecco (center) and Bill Lengyel (right) teaching a culinary class on different types of cheeses.

While vacant buildings scar much of downtown Riverhead, there’s one establishment there that’s growing by leaps and bounds — the culinary arts school run by Suffolk Community College.

The Culinary Arts and Hospitality Program is Suffolk Community College’s fastest growing course offering and now, in its third year, has about 400 students, according to Richard Freilich, program director. Before the college opened the Culinary Arts and Hospitality Center at 20 East Main Street in Jan. 2008, the culinary program, which had been housed at the college’s Eastern Campus in Northampton, had only 75 students, he said,

Now, even more growth is expected.

“I would say we’re looking at a 30 to 40 percent increase for next year, and this year, we’ve had an over 50 percent increase,” Mr. Freilich said.

He attributes the surge to several factors, including the popularity of television shows that have “elevated chefs to superheroes” and programming such as that on the Food Network.

“That, along with the fact that we have a facility that is state of the art,” he said.

In addition, the program has more than 30 adjunct professors who themselves work as chefs or restaurant owners or are involved in culinary or hospitality businesses, Mr. Frielich said.

“This is the only accredited culinary arts program on Long Island, so if you’re on Long Island and interested in pursuing a culinary arts education, your choices are to enroll here or to leave Long Island,” said Drew Fawcett, the college’s Associate Dean for Institutional Advancement.

While single-year tuition for some top culinary schools in the country is more than $20,000, Suffolk Community College tuition is $3,776, he said.

Mr. Freilich said the culinary students now come from “all walks of life.” Some are retired, some are people who work in the field and are looking to increase their knowledge, some are students coming out of high school or BOCES culinary programs and some are students who transferred form other culinary schools.

“My father owned a restaurant for about 15 years and my mother grew up as a foodie,” said student Peter Wiegel of East Setauket, in his last year in the culinary program. “I was in school in South Carolina for business and I decided to change my whole direction. I researched it, and this was the most convenient and affordable option. It couldn’t really be beat.”

He said he hopes in the future to be either a chef or to own a restaurant.

Nicole Jordan of Babylon said she’s worked in restaurants for the past 10 years “and decided to take my talents a little bit further.” She’s now in her third year in the program.

The Culinary Arts and Hospitality Center houses the culinary, baking and hotel management programs, along with courses in practical nursing and a dietetic tech program, according to Dave Bergen, associate dean of the culinary program.

The practical nursing program is also in great demand, he said.

“We have a 30-seat limit in the [practical nursing] program, and we had roughly 230 applications,” he said.

Most culinary program graduates can get middle management positions, which could include anything from assistant manager for a restaurant to assistant food and beverage director for a hotel or assistant baker in a bakery, Mr. Freilich said. There also are a number of internship programs available to the students, including one in Florence, Italy, that students from the program will be participating in for the third straight year, he said.

The culinary students also participate in a number of community programs, cooking for meetings of groups like Eastern Long Island Executives, the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce, and the North Fork Promotional Council, according to Dr. Evon Walters, executive dean of the college’s Eastern Campus.

This year, the culinary program is holding some courses on Saturdays as a result of the enrollment boom, according to Mr. Freilich. But he says there’s plenty of room left.

“We can fit as many people as wish to come,” he said. “This facility is large. We haven’t tapped out this facility yet.”

tgannon@timesreview.com

09/30/10 12:00am

JENNETT MERIDEN RUSSELL
Mary Langhorn of Riverhead at a ceremony on Monday dedicating the Riverhead Post Office in honor of her son, Private First Class Garfield M. Langhorn, a Medal of Honor recipient.

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.

On Monday, family members, dignitaries, fellow veterans and many others who had never met the young soldier gathered in front of the Riverhead Post Office to remember Pfc. Langhorn — and to rename the building in his honor.

“I couldn’t sleep the past couple of nights,” said Vietnam veteran Bob Elrose of Riverhead. “This is the greatest thing that’s happened to Riverhead, and [Pfc. Langhorn] is the greatest hero to ever come out of Riverhead, so this is very exciting.”

The renaming ceremony saw flocks of well-wishers, including Congressman Timothy Bishop, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy and Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter.

Flanked by members of various Vietnam veteran motorcycle clubs holding large American flags, more than 500 people huddled beneath a large tent for the ceremony as a light drizzle fell outside.

During the event, Mr. Bishop presented Pfc. Langhorn’s mother, Mary Langhorn, 86, of Riverhead, a copy of the legislation bearing the signature of President Obama, as well as the pen President Obama used to sign the legislation

“I’m just lost for words,” said Ms. Langhorn, holding a dozen fresh roses and wiping the tears from her eyes. “It’s just beautiful and I thank everybody for coming out.”

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. 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,’” Ms. Langhorn said.

The renaming of the Riverhead Post Office in honor of the lost soldier was the brainchild of Richard Kitson and Al Carvalheira, members of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 11. Mr. Kitson, president of the local chapter, thanked Mr. Bishop for making the renaming of the post office a reality.

“There’s nothing more significant happening in this town, in this state, in this country than what’s happening in Riverhead with the renaming of this post office,” Mr. Kitson said, noting that he appreciated the fact that Pfc. Langhorn had been raised to be a conscientious Christian by his family. “For those of us who have been in combat, you really don’t know how you’re going to react until that moment happens, and because of where Garfield came from and the loving spirit of his family – that gave him the courage to do what he had to do.”

Erik Eve, son of Rodney Eve, a former Vietnam veteran who was with Pfc. Langhorn the day he died, read his father’s chilling account of that day.

Rodney Eve recently died of cancer, Erik Eve noted, but he had written an account of his fellow soldier’s bravery.

According to the elder Mr. Eve, in the memoir read by his son, Pfc. Langhorn was part of a special infantry unit known as the Blues, which rescued downed helicopters; the athletic private worked the radio, calling in air strikes and noting the platoon’s and the enemy’s position.

On January 15, 1969, a Cobra helicopter with a crew of two was making low passes, shooting missiles and firing guns at enemy combatants in the thick jungles near Plei Djereng in Pleiku Province.

The helicopter was struck by enemy fire, grazed some trees, spun in, and crashed. The Blues were sent in to either rescue the pilots or carry their bodies out. Either way, they were going in to get them.

Two distinct problems facing the rescue team became quickly apparent. The helicopter had gone down on a heavily timbered, steep slope crawling with the enemy, and nightfall was closing in fast.

As Pfc. Langhorn provided radio coordination with supporting U.S. aircraft overhead, the team hacked its way to the helicopter crew, who were both dead.

Carrying the bodies back to the pickup zone, the Blues suddenly found themselves under intense attack from North Vietnamese soldiers in camouflaged bunkers. Within minutes the Blues were entirely surrounded and started taking causalities.

Pfc. Langhorn called for air fire from orbiting gunships, which began firing guns and rockets at the enemy.

The rescue team formed a small perimeter, placing the wounded in the center as they continued to fight. Soon night fell and the gunships could no longer lay down accurate fire, leaving the platoon of Blues to face the enemy alone.

Pfc. Langhorn stood between his platoon leader and the wounded. Suddenly a ripping sound came out of the woods and a hand grenade landed next to the radioman and the wounded soldiers.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Pfc. Langhorn threw his body onto the live explosive. He was killed instantly.

“If Garfield had not acted on his faith and belief, I would not be standing here now,” said Erik Eve, a Lindenhurst teacher who brought his class to the ceremony. “As a husband and a father, it means more to me everyday, and I’d like to thank him for the life I now have.”