A legacy that never fades: Remembering Pfc. Garfield Langhorn

As Venetia Lewis stood next to Congressman Lee Zeldin inside the post office named in memory of her uncle, the emotion of the moment sank in.

At a ceremony Monday to commemorate the legacy of U.S. Army Private First Class Garfield Langhorn, Mr. Zeldin announced the introduction of a bill that would create a semipostal stamp in his honor. Those stamps, sold at a premium price, would raise funds for a veterans program, similar to stamps sold for raising funds for Alzheimer’s at 65 cents, for example.

Ms. Lewis said she had been unaware that the announcement was to be made.

“I was about to cry,” she said afterward. “That’s amazing.”

A stamp in memory of Pfc. Langhorn, who died 50 years ago in Vietnam at the age of 20, is something Ms. Lewis had wished for ever since the Riverhead post office was renamed in September 2010.

“This is like a dream come true,” she said. “I’m so honored.”

Ms. Lewis was one of a dozen people who spoke at the ceremony to remember Pfc. Langhorn, who posthumously earned the Medal of Honor, the most prestigious military decoration, as well as the Purple Heart. On Jan. 15, 1969, Pfc. Langhorn threw his body onto a grenade to save the lives of fellow soldiers, several of whom had already been injured during a mission to recover the bodies of two pilots whose helicopter was shot down by enemy fire.

The Riverhead native was the only Suffolk County resident to earn the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War. Five decades later, his legacy lives on throughout Riverhead Town, through an annual essay contest for Riverhead students, memorials at the post office and Pulaski Street School library, the renaming of Maple Avenue, where he grew up, and now the stamp.

“Garfield Langhorn is really, truly a hometown hero in Riverhead,” said Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith. “The sacrifice that he made for our community, there are no words for what he did and how proud he makes us.”

Ms. Lewis, 50, of Riverhead, recalled that during her childhood, her grandmother, Mary Langhorn, would share stories about her son.

“To hear about these heroic actions made us all very proud,” she said, adding that Mary Langhorn is still doing well at age 94. “Just to know we had an uncle who died as a hero.”

Clarence Simpson of the Veterans of Vietnam Chapter 11, and Congressman Lee Zeldin. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)

The sacrifice he made never came as a surprise to his family members. He was a man who always showed kindness.

“What he did in the war was just an example of who he was as a man,” she said. “It hurts because I never met him. I was born in 1968; he died in 1969. So we never had an opportunity to have an uncle. His sisters never had their brother after the age of 20.”

Christopher Rodriguez, a Pulaski Street sixth-grader who was among the winners of the most recent essay contest, shared his winning essay with the group, which included dozens of veterans.

The students were tasked with answering the question: “How can ordinary people emulate Langhorn’s extraordinary valor in their everyday lives?”

In his essay, Christopher described different ways his fellow students can help each other.

“You can help someone with their homework. You can invite someone who’s being left out to sit next to you at lunch,” he said.

Ms. Lewis said her daughter Candis Lamb, who’s now 28, was an essay contest winner when she was a student.

Congressman Lee Zeldin and Christopher Rodriguez, a recent winner of the Pfc. Langhorn essay contest. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)

Doris Eve, the widow of a soldier who served alongside Pfc. Langhorn, shared the story of what his memory has meant to her family.

“My husband’s life and many other lives were saved by a truly heroic soldier,” she said. “I am forever thankful for his brave sacrifice. Garfield allowed Rodney to become an admirable son, brother, husband, father, public servant. Garfield has always been present in our family life.”

Ms. Eve said afterward that it was often her husband, Rodney, or son, Erik, who would speak about Pfc. Langhorn at events. This was her first time, she said, taking the microphone.

When the post office was renamed in 2010, Erik Eve read his father’s memoir detailing how events unfolded on the day Pfc. Langhorn died.

Rodney Eve died in 2005 at the age of 58.

“Our family will always love [Pfc. Langhorn],” she said. “It will be going from my grandchildren to my great-grandchildren. He just made who we were. I love him and I love his family very much.”

Mr. Zeldin hosted the event and said it was appropriate that it fell on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Dr. King was born Jan. 15, 1929, 40 years to the day before Pfc. Langhorn died.

“I think it’s fitting as we all reflect on the sacrifice that was made by Dr. King, that it really is in that same vein when you look at the life of Pfc. Langhorn,” Mr. Zeldin said.

Mr. Zeldin was joined by Frank Calabrese, district manager of the U.S. Postal Service’s Long Island District, in presenting a flag that recently flew over the U.S. Capitol and unveiling a Congressional Record tribute to honor Pfc. Langhorn, who was a radio operator with Troop C, 7th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Aviation Brigade.

Mr. Zeldin asked Ms. Lewis to join him as he announced the introduction of the Pfc. Garfield M. Langhorn Memorial Semipostal Stamp to Benefit our Veterans Act of 2019.

He said the money generated by sales of the stamp would go to Supportive Services for Veteran Families, a Department of Defense program that offers assistance to low-income veteran families that are transitioning to permanent housing.

“We need to continually keep his legacy going, because he is our hero,” Ms. Lewis said. “He’s my hero. He’s our hero right here in Riverhead.”

Top photo caption: Venetia Lewis, left, and Doris Eve admire the painting of Pfc. Langhorn in the Riverhead Post Office. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)

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See more photos below:

Doris Eve, whose widow Rodney served alongside Pfc. Langhorn, speaks to a CBS reporter following the ceremony. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)
Venetia Lewis, right, and Doris Eve admire the painting of Pfc. Langhorn in the Riverhead Post Office. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)
Venetia Lewis stands next to Congressman Lee Zeldin as she learns of a bill to create a semipostal stamp in Pfc. Langhorn’s memory. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)
Vietnam veterans joined the ceremony Monday. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)
Venetia Lewis of Riverhead shares stories of her uncle, Pfc. Langhorn who died not long after she was born. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)
Congressman Lee Zeldin and Frank Calabrese, district manager of the United States Postal Service’s Long Island District, unveil a Congressional Record tribute for Pfc. Langhorn. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)