ROXBURY, NJ – More than a half-century after 21-year-old Succasunna resident James Ohlinger was killed in Vietnam, the Army private was remembered today with the unveiling of an honorary street sign on the corner of Thor Drive and Reider Street.
The “street blade” installation was the culmination of a lengthy effort by Patrick White, a neighbor who knew Ohlinger and began in 2016 asking Roxbury officials to erect the sign. His requests were initially rebuffed because Ohlinger did not meet the township’s prior criteria for street blade recognition – being a Roxbury native or living in the township for at least 20 years.
Late last year, the Roxbury Mayor and Council revised the policy and adopted a resolution awarding Ohlinger the street blade. Four members of the council, including Roxbury Mayor Mark Crowley, joined Ohlinger’s family, neighbors and other officials at today’s ceremony.
“On behalf of the whole township council, I’m just honored not only to be your mayor but to be here today,” Crowley said. “It’s a very special occasion.”
The mayor noted that Ohlinger died Nov. 19, 1966. “I’d like to, for a minute, put that into my perspective,” he said. “1966 was 52 years ago … In 1962 was the first time I was aware that our country had people protecting our freedom. With the Cuban missile crisis, I was 11. I remember just practicing air raids in school. It was scary, but the one thing I was always told was that our country was strong and I did not know what that meant or how it was strong, but I was told that.”
Crowley pointed out he was just a sophomore in high school when Ohlinger was killed in Kontum Province, South Vietnam. He said he remembered watching the news back in those days and hearing, most every day, “how many people had perished, killed for our country … I do know now that our country is strong and I now know why it is strong, what it means to be strong: It’s because of people like James Ohlinger.”
He said Ohlinger sacrificed “all of the things that people like me have been blessed with” to make the country strong.
During his turn at the microphone, Kenvil VFW Post 2833 Commander John Lehnert called Ohlinger “a fallen hero from Roxbury Township,” and called the street blade ceremony “a solemn, important occasion, one we shall long remember with pride for the small part we are contributing.”
State Assemblyman Anthony Bucco, who also serves as Roxbury’s municipal attorney, said he was honored to be part of the ceremony.
“Today, when it seems like our country is more divided than ever, its days like today that remind us of what we are all about and what we live for and what we fight for and what brings us together as a nation,” he said. “You know, less than 1 percent of the American population wears the uniform of our country. That’s an amazing number. But every time just one of that one percent puts on that American uniform, they do so to protect our freedoms at the risk of their own lives and that's something we all need to remember and cherish.”
Watch the Morris County Color Guard and hear the National Anthem sung by Amanda Melchers, Melissa Hughes, Austin Kurbansade and Ian Hachey: