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This Day in History: Garfield Langhorn's Medal of Honor

On this day in 1969, a hero engages in an action that would earn him the Medal of Honor. Garfield M. Langhorn had been in Vietnam for only two months when his heroic act occurred.


Like so many in his generation, he’d been drafted into the Army.


“I don’t know if he wanted to do what he was doing when he was killed,” his Congressman would later say, “but he served magnificently.”

Langhorn’s friends and family describe him as a devout Christian and a good student who liked to run cross-country. “He was always caring,” his mother concluded. “He’d help the old ladies with their groceries when they’d get home from the stores. He’d go along with his sister to the movies, and he’d sit one row behind her to make sure she was OK.”


When he deployed to Vietnam in November 1968, he’d just gotten engaged to his childhood sweetheart. His fiancée, Joan, was worried. She later said that something seemed off on the day he left for Vietnam. As he walked to the plane, he turned to wave at her and his family.


“There was something about that moment,” she told a reporter. “I knew—I somehow just knew—he was never coming back.”


Sadly, her intuition proved correct. Langhorn never came back, yet his heroism would ensure that other soldiers returned home from the war.


On January 15, 1969, Pfc. Langhorn was in Pleiku Province, serving as a radio operator in the 7th Squadron, 17th Cavalry, 1st Aviation Brigade. His platoon had been dropped into a landing zone, tasked with finding and rescuing two helicopter pilots who’d been shot down.


They weren’t in time. Langhorn’s group found the two pilots, but they were already dead. Unfortunately, things got even worse as our boys attempted to recover the bodies: The platoon came under attack. The enemy had been in some camouflaged bunkers nearby.


Before they knew it, our boys were surrounded. “Pfc. Langhorn immediately radioed for help from the orbiting gunships,” his Medal citation would later describe, “which began to place minigun and rocket fire on the aggressors. He then lay between the platoon leader and another man, operating the radio and providing covering fire for the wounded who had been moved to the center of the small perimeter.”


These tactics helped at first, but then darkness fell. Air support was no longer effective, and the enemy began to get more aggressive.


It was then that an enemy grenade landed in front of Langhorn and some other men.  According to all reports, the young private didn’t even hesitate. He threw himself over the grenade, absorbing its full impact. Someone thought they heard him yell “someone’s got to care!” as he went down.


His action saved those around him. One of these men, Rodney Eve, would later visit Langhorn’s parents, telling them what their son had done. He’s since passed away, but his son carries on, telling Langhorn’s story.


“I am here today because of his actions,” Eric Eve said.


Likewise, Langhorn’s nephew uses his middle name, which was his uncle’s first name. “[P]eople ask me why I go by ‘Garfield’ . . . it gives me the opportunity to tell his story,” he explained.


Langhorn’s memory also lives on in an annual essay contest at a local school, among other memorials. But Joan continues to have one last wish for him.


“In his official portrait and the pictures you see of him, he always looks so serious, but that wasn’t Garfield at all,” she told a reporter in 2013. “Garfield had the most beautiful smile, and he was always smiling. I want people to know that about him.”

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