Lester Mykel Conger
Colonel, United States Army
of his classmates
United States Military Academy Class of 1946
Lester Mykel Conger
Lester Mykel Conger, known affectionately as Les to his family and friends, was born 18 November, 1923 in Plymouth, Wisconsin. Blessed with a quick mind and fantastic imagination, Les, at an early age, would create many of his own games, both for his own amusement and the education of his sisters. Music was very important to Les throughout his life; he started on the piano and then went on to the flute and piccolo. President of his class in high school, Les graduated with honors and won a two year scholarship to the University of Wisconsin. He attended the branch in Sheboygan his first year alter high school, studying history, but with the advent of World War II, he decided he should major in one of the physical sciences. He transferred to the main campus in Madison and majored in physics. While there, he soloed with the piccolo in the university band. Encouraged by his father, Les took the competitive exam for West Point, and in the spring of 1943 learned that he had been accepted to join the Class of 1946 on 1 July.
As a cadet, Les began to develop those characteristics which became his trade-mark on active duty. The strength with kindness that he displayed as an upperclassman dealing with plebes proved to be extremely effective when he commanded troops. He inspired admiration, respect and loyalty, in everyone who came in contact with him throughout his career. Another of his strengths recalled by his roommate was his quiet but strong determination. Any temporary setback or problem would cause Les to try and try again until he overcame whatever problem he had. He believed in and had faith in himself.
Graduation saw Les go into the Infantry and attend the usual schools at Fort Benning, Georgia. His first troop assignment was as platoon leader with the 25th Division in Japan from 1947-49. His next post was Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he served as aide-de camp to the Assistant Division Commander for a year before getting a company in the 511th Airborne Infantry Regiment. From Kentucky, Les went to Korea where he served with both the IX and X Corps before becoming a Company Commander in the 18th RCT in Japan.
Les returned to CONUS to enter the Foreign Area Training Program with China as his area of expertise. He attended Stanford to study Mandarin Chinese. While at Stanford, Les lived next door to a young man doing graduate work in theater. This graduate student recalls that Les was the creme de la creme, the true "officer and a gentleman." He remembers Les as an extremely serious student studying a very difficult language and an even more serious career officer. He often told Les that, with his native intelligence, good looks and winning personality, he had what it took to rise to the highest levels in the Army. This gentleman wrote that he took comfort in knowing and befriending this charismatic man, and that he had that short time as his next-door neighbor and buddy.
To round out his area training, Les spent several years in Taipei, Taiwan. While there he demonstrated an ease with the Chinese language and was extremely popular with the Chinese people with whom he associated. Upon the completion of his area training, Les was assigned to the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, in Washington. From there he was assigned to the 1st Special Forces Group in Okinawa. While with that unit, Les spent a good part of his time in Thailand. In fact, he broke his back making a parachute jump while in Thailand. Back to CONUS in 1965. Les became a battalion commander in the 2d Training Regiment at Fort Gordon, Georgia. In 1967, he went to Vietnam where he first served with Headquarters, MACV; then from l968-7O, he was the province senior advisor in Phong Dinh. Nineteen seventy saw Les return to Headquarters Third Armv in Atlanta, Georgia where he was chief, Unit Training Division, Office of the Third US Army Deputy Chief of Staff, Reserve Forces. It was in this assignment that Lester Mykel Conger was killed when an aircraft in which he was a passenger crashed at the Fulton County Airport, Atlanta, Georgia, on 12 February 1972.
During his career, Les received the Legion of Merit with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, the Bronze Star Medal with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, three Air Medals, The Army Commendation Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Vietnam Gallantry Cross and the Vietnam Honor Medal, First Class. At the time of his death, Les was survived by a son George, his mother, and four sisters; Sarah, Ruth, Katinka and Harriett.
Les's friends, classmates and family all recall a similar characteristic when they think of him: kindness. Such a simple term, but so meaningful when used to describe Les. He displayed a genuine kindness to everyone with whom he came in contact. As a result, he was universally liked and respected. Combined with his kindness was a determination to be the best he could in every endeavor. He could be tough when the situation demanded, but always fairly evaluated each situation with which he was confronted. Many of his classmates recall that Les would go the extra mile to help one of his classmates. Les was taken from us just as he was entering the most productive years of his career. His potential for stars was great.
A true soldier, Les devoted his life to the principles of West Point. "Duty, Honor, Country" were not just words to him, rather the guideposts of a brilliant career. Les enhanced the lives of everyone with whom he came in contact. The Army lost a fine officer, West Point lost a loyal son and his family and classmates lost a light in the firmament of their lives when Les was killed. As Lester Mykel Conger joined "The Long Gray Line," there was a unanimous cry of "Well Done, Be Thou At Peace."
The feelings of all are best described by one of Les's roommates when he said, "When I remember Les Conger, my heart does some melting."
1946 Memorial Article Project and his sister Ruth.
Michael Robert Patterson
Photo By: M. R. Patterson, October 2007