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Black History

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Bethel AME Church in Setauket. File photo by Alyssa Melillo

“It changed, so how can we?”

That is the question Rev. Greg Leonard of Setauket’s Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church has asked the Three Village community, and that is the question residents will have the chance to answer at a special service planned for next week. Leonard and more than 100 members of his church hosted a moving ceremony in the aftermath of June’s horrific shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina, and he said Black History Month was an appropriate time to reflect.

“At the previous meeting, we started to build bridges to one another and we want to continue doing this,” he said. “And with this being Black History Month, Bethel wanted to take leadership and hold an event at which all people — because black history isn’t just for black people — can come together.”

Bethel AME scheduled the gathering for Saturday, Feb. 27 at 3 p.m. at the church, located at 33 Christian Ave. in Setauket.

Rev. Gregory Leonard leads a service at Bethel AME Church in Setauket. File photo by Alyssa Melillo
Rev. Gregory Leonard leads a service at Bethel AME Church in Setauket. File photo by Alyssa Melillo

The event flyer that Bethel AME Church has been distributed promoted the hash tag #PrayForCharleston, which went viral following the June 17, 2015 shooting that killed nine African Americans at a church in South Carolina. The flyer also challenged the Three Village community with moving the dialogue forward to address racial issues and injustice across America.

“The primary issue we’re talking about is change,” Leonard said. “It’s about how this change happens on a community-wide basis, and also on an individual basis.”

North Shore native Leroy White lost his second cousin DePayne Middleton Doctor in the tragedy and said the outpouring of support from Three Village families was overwhelming in the days following the shooting.

“What we saw was a community coming together so well that it was almost unbelievable,” White said in an interview in June. “The response was so overwhelming that we were taken aback by the number of people who showed up. It showed me that this is one of the better communities in America.”

Since the shooting, Leonard said he has already seen strides made across the country to enhance the discussion about race in America. He cited the removal of the Confederate flag outside a state building in South Carolina back in July as a pivotal moment showing what could be achieved through common understanding.

“That was a revolutionary moment,” he said. “I think no matter how people might have felt, the remembrance of the tragedy and also the great grace the people had in terms of forgiveness after the fact can begin to build bridges, even to people who feel they might oppose your stance on any particular matter.”

Butch Langhorn has served his nation for decades. Above, he is pictured in uniform during his Army days. Photo from Langhorn

By Rich Acritelli

Butch Langhorn has served his nation for decades. Above, he is pictured in uniform during his Army days. Photo from Langhorn
Butch Langhorn has served his nation for decades. Above, he is pictured in uniform during his Army days. Photo from Langhorn

To say that Long Island native Butch Langhorn has lived a full life would be an understatement. As a veteran and a community man, he has both seen a lot and given a lot back to the county that raised him.

From his youth, Langhorn was a gifted three-sport athlete, excelling in football, basketball and track for Riverhead High School. His impact was so great that he held the record for the triple jump for 10 years after his graduation.

In 1964, the young man enlisted in the U.S. Army and was stationed at Fort Totten in Bayside, Queens. While he worked in the personnel office, his sporting abilities allowed him the chance to play basketball within the Special Services of the Army. Langhorn competed as a 5-foot-8-inch guard against many who had experience playing semiprofessional and Division I hoops. The servicemen competing had the rare opportunity of representing their military bases in games that ranged from Maine to New Jersey.

The next year, Langhorn was deployed to South Vietnam, where he saw the earliest action of the war in Southeast Asia. In an interview, he noted the beauty of the nation and the influence of French culture on the former capital of Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City. For a couple of months, Langhorn was a gunner on a helicopter that flew into the major combat areas of South Vietnam, engaged against the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong. He was tasked with helping medical evacuation crews with the vital mission of returning wounded and dead U.S. soldiers to American bases.

As a young African-American soldier during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, Langhorn observed the treatment of blacks in South Vietnam. According to Langhorn, he had a relationship with a local woman of French descent who took him home to meet her family. When he met her mother, the woman told him to shower and take a nap before dinner. Again he came into her presence and she wrongly believed that he was a white soldier who had too much dirt on his skin. It was one example of a different racial experience for Langhorn — he quickly learned that most of the black soldiers who were fighting against the communists in South Vietnam were not understood by the very people they were trying to protect.

Butch Langhorn has served his nation for decades. Above, he is pictured with his family. Photo from Langhorn
Butch Langhorn has served his nation for decades. Above, he is pictured with his family. Photo from Langhorn

After more than a year overseas, Langhorn went home to finish his Army tour. By 1971, he quickly re-enlisted as an active guardsmen reservist, serving full-time for the New York 106th Air National Guard base in Westhampton Beach. For many years, he was the head of the recruiting station that brought in many fine airmen, noncommissioned officers and officers. Langhorn had a prideful hand in signing military members from different backgrounds to enhance the Air Force wing. Many of the men and women he recruited have been deployed to the Middle East to fight the war on terror, conducted massive air-sea rescues in the Atlantic Ocean, endured the rigors of the elite pararescue jumper training and deployments, and tackled the older mission of aiding space shuttle landings. Langhorn later oversaw the personnel department that was responsible for sorting out the paperwork needs of the military unit.

Langhorn may be retired after serving four decades in uniform, but he is still a dominant member of his community and has spent a lot of that time trying to help young people. He served on the Riverhead Central School District Board of Education for five years, working to keep athletics and other programs in the schools, and as a current assistant for the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, he organizes educational programs that bring high school criminal justice students to visit the county jail. In his role, he also helps guide nonprofit groups that are focused on rehabilitating inmates. In addition, former Congressmen Michael Forbes and Tim Bishop both recognized Langhorn’s professionalism, and he served as an instrumental member of their staffs to handle veterans affairs.

Since his youth, this North Shore citizen has given back to his society and to his nation. TBR Newspapers salutes him during Black History Month.