ROXBURY, NJ – A Roxbury man who died in the Vietnam War will be honored with a small street sign despite the fact that he didn’t live in town long enough to meet a township policy regarding the so-called “street blades.”
The Roxbury Mayor and Council on Tuesday voted unanimously in favor of installing a street blade on Thor Drive in Succasunna to honor deceased soldier James Ohlinger, who lived on the road before being killed in action Nov. 19, 1966 at 21 years old.
Thor Drive resident Patrick White, who knew Ohlinger, first asked for the street blade in 2016. He said he was told the soldier did not meet the criteria in the township’s street blade policy, specifically that a recipient of a street blade must live in Roxbury for at least 20 years.
White attended an October council meeting and again pressed for the street blade. Town officials said they would review the policy, but no promise was made.
The matter turned into a bit of a dustup at the Nov. 14 council meeting when Roxbury Councilman Jim Rilee suggested “disgusting politics” in the form of some behind-the-scenes activity relating to the street blade issue was taking place. Feeling their input was needed, members of Roxbury Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2833 attended Tuesday’s council meeting prepared to urge the council to approve of the sign honoring Ohlinger.
Before they did, Roxbury Councilman Bob DeFillippo addressed the matter and made a motion to waive the residency requirement “for this one case.” His motion was unanimously approved by the council.
“There’s been a lot of discussion since our last meeting about designating a street blade or a sign to honor Mr. James Ohlinger,” DeFillippo said. “We’ve been told Mr. Ohlinger is one of the first, or perhaps the first, person who was killed from Roxbury in Vietnam. To be clear, all service members deserve our respect and gratitude. And those who made the ultimate sacrifice must be honored for their sacrifice and the sacrifices made by their families and their loved ones.”
Citing the 20-year residency requirement for a street blade, DeFillippo told the audience that the policy “was there for a reason” and was crafted after council consideration and input from the community.
“While I wasn’t part of the council at the time, it seems clear it was meant to be an honor that goes to long-time residents,” DeFillippo said. “To disregard the requirement potentially disrespects those service members who have already been granted a street blade because they met all the criteria. We should be considerate of their families and their loved ones.”
However, the councilman said he favored granting Ohlinger the sign “given the extraordinary circumstances of this case: The fact that Mr. Ohlinger may have been the first or among the first to give his life in Vietnam.”
Roxbury Township Manager John Shepherd said he will continue to discuss the street blade policy with veterans and others to see if it warrants a revision. Roxbury Councilman Dan Kline has proposed adding a clause to the policy that waives the 20-year residency requirement for service members killed in action.