Moments after a portrait of Pfc. Garfield Langhorn was unveiled at the post office in Riverhead Monday, Erik Eve cradled one of his twin daughters to his chest, as his other daughter stood nearby.
"If it weren't for his sacrifice, they wouldn't be here today," Eve, 34, said of his daughters. "I wouldn't be here, either."
Eve was among more than 200 people who attended a ceremony during which the Riverhead post office was renamed in Langhorn's honor.
Langhorn, a 1967 graduate of Riverhead High School, was killed in 1969 when he fell on a grenade to save about 20 of his fellow soldiers during a Vietnam War ambush. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Richard M. Nixon in 1970.
Monday's ceremony drew an outpouring of Vietnam Veterans, many of whom held flags.
Sal Marcella, a former Army sergeant who served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, said the renaming of the post office in honor of a Vietnam veteran was particularly significant to other Vietnam veterans, many of whom felt their service was ignored in the years after they returned.
"It is the due he should have gotten 40 years ago," said Marcella, who loaned his old Army dress greens to the artist as a model for the painted portrait.
Eve said his father, Rodney Eve, who was nearby when the grenade detonated, had always credited Langhorn with saving his life. Rodney Eve died in 2005.
"Garfield's last words were "you have to care," said Eve, a social studies teacher at Lindenhurst Middle School. "Every day, his words mean something to me."
Langhorn's mother, Mary Langhorn, of Riverhead, said her son would have been proud. "He would have said he did what he had to do," she said.
The U.S. Postal Service is designing a display in the lobby that will include the painting of Langhorn and a plaque, said Riverhead Postmaster Kevin Goree. Goree said the display may also include a facsimile of the Medal of Honor, if one is approved in Washington.
The renaming ceremony drew current and former members of Langhorn's unit - the 7th Squadron, 17th Air Cavalry Regiment - from as far away as Hot Springs, Ark.
Lt. Col Neil Reilly, commander of the 7/17th at Fort Campbell, Ky., who spoke at the ceremony, said soldiers in the unit are still taught about Langhorn's service. "His was the ultimate sacrifice, but not a final sacrifice," Reilly said. "The legacy transcends the individual."