Pulaski Street Elementary School principal David Densieski announced the winners of the 12th annual Pfc. Garfield Langhorn Memorial Essay Contest Friday.
A 1967 Riverhead High School graduate, Private First Class Garfield M. Langhorn was posthumously awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor for giving up his own life to save his fellow soldiers when he jumped on a live grenade in Pleiku Province, South Vietnam on Jan. 15, 1969. He was 20 years old.
Pfc. Langhorn was one of only three people from Long Island and the only person from Riverhead awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor during Vietnam, said music teacher Trevor Hewitt.
“Our mission today is to pay homage to Pfc. Langhorn as an American hero, and as our own member,” Mr. Hewitt said. “He began his required military career on Oct. 26, 1968 and was sent to the jungles of Vietnam as a radio operator … it was in those jungles that he demonstrated true courage and nobility.”
Each year sixth graders are invited to write an essay that fits that year’s theme, which is always inspired by Pfc. Langhorn’s heroism and selflessness. This year’s theme was “ask yourself what can a person your age do to help,” Mr. Densieski said.
The three winners were Ryan Zaleski, Philip Tucci and Elisabeth Hanham. Students in Ms. Eileen Mackey’s class wrote a collective essay, which was given an honorable mention.
This year’s essay contest was coordinated by Mr. Hewitt, retired Pulaski teacher Mary Anne Harroun, Debbie Brown and Mr. Clarence Simpson, Vice President of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 11.
Ryan, Philip and Elisabeth each received a $50 MasterCard gift card and Ms. Mackey’s class received one worth $25.
Each winner also read his or her essay to the packed auditorium, which included the entire sixth grade, members from the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 11, Patriot Guard Riders, the essay contest judges and Pfc. Longhorn’s fiancée at the time of his death, Joan Brown-Smith.
Student Ayaunia Humphrey read the essay for Ms. Mackey’s class.
The contest has noticeably grown in size since it was introduced in 2004. In its first year there were only 58 entries. This year, 252 essays were submitted.
Ms. Brown-Smith applauded the students’ work and thanked them for their continued support of the contest.
“I would like to just say to all of the students, always try to do your best and respect each other,” she said. “To all the veterans here in the hall, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Photo: Back row from left to right: President of the Veterans of Vietnam Chapter 11 Rich Kitson, Pulaski principal David Densieski and Vice President of the Veterans of Vietnam Chapter 11 Clarence Simpson. Front row, from left to right, winners Ryan Zaleski, Philip Tucci, Elisabeth Hanham, Ayaunia Humphrey and Pfc. Langhorn’s fiancee Joan Brown-Smith. (Credit: Nicole Smith)