The state route that becomes Main Street in Lebanon could be named after a local soldier who went missing in action 50 years ago in Vietnam and was presumed killed.
Ohio 63 in Lebanon and part of Warren County would be named The SFC John E. Conger Jr. Memorial Highway, according to the state transportation bill passed by the Ohio Senate on Thursday.
Conger was determined to be missing in action on Jan. 27, 1969.
“On the day Conger went missing, his unit, Company A, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Brigade, was conducting a search and destroy mission when they were taken under fire by enemy machine guns. Four men were wounded in the initial gunfire,” according to Sen. Steve Wilson’s office.
“Conger was attempting to take out the enemy machine gun nest when he was reportedly wounded in the shoulder and neck. None of the wounded could be reached as a result of the machine gun fire, and SFC Conger’s remains were never recovered.”
The U.S. Army changed his status to presumed dead in 1978.
His sister-in-law, Pamela Conger, said she asked Wilson for help while he was campaigning in 2018.
Two decades ago, she said, the U.S. Army gave up trying to locate some trace of his remains.
The family visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington and saw his name inscribed on the wall.
“We’ve been there several times,” she said. “He also has a tombstone in Arlington.”
About five years ago, Bobby Lee Estle, his grandnephew, was killed in Afghanistan. Estle’s sister contacted the state about naming a section state road after him. A section of the Ohio 48 Bypass outside Lebanon is named after Estle.
“I thought to myself, ‘If Bobby can have one, why doesn’t Johnny have one? How do I go about that?’” she said.
Wilson said he asked if there was anything he could do for the family, and Pamela Conger asked about the road naming.
“I became aware of a true American hero that has given his life in service of his country,” Wilson said.
The name change was introduced in Senate Bill 41 in February and added to the transportation budget as an amendment.
Wilson said it remains unclear if Conger died in action or as a prisoner of war. The senator also confirmed it is uncertain that the name change will be included in the final transportation budget, the subject of continued debate over the gas tax increase.
It would be the second recent recognition for SFC John E. Conger Jr.
In January, Conger’s name was included on a list of veteran graduates killed in action on a wall in the Lebanon High School lobby.
Now the family is hopeful a local road will be named after him.
“Hopefully, it’s going to come this spring,” Conger said.
“I think it’s sad the government has given up trying to find any part of him,” she added. “I think this is the least our government can do to honor him.”
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