Southern Illinois highway renamed for soldier killed in Vietnam

gwphighwayDozens of people gathered in Gillespie this week to remember a Dorchester soldier who was killed in action in 1967 only a month after beginning his tour of duty in Vietnam.

Now, U.S. Army Private First Class Gary Wayne Price, a 1966 graduate of Gillespie High School, will be permanently honored in this Macoupin County community. A section of Illinois 16 from Stagecoach Road to Gillespie is officially designated the Pfc. Gary Wayne Price Memorial Highway, and the Illinois Department of Transportation has installed signage identifying it as such.

A ceremony Monday hosted by state Sens. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, and Sam McCann, R-Plainview, and Price’s family brought together those who knew the soldier and wanted to honor his memory, including friends, classmates, relatives and area veterans. The event took place at the Gillespie Municipal Building.

“We take things for granted today in the United States – our freedom, the simple things we enjoy in life each and every day,” Manar said. “We enjoy those things because people put their lives on the line for their country and for people they will never meet and will never know. That’s what Gary Wayne Price did for us. This is a small thing we can do to honor his memory, but I think it’s a fitting thing for state government to do.”

Price was just 19 when he was killed by small arms fire on May 6, 1967, while serving near Plieku in Vietnam as an infantryman with Company B, 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. He had started his tour of duty on April 6, 1967.

Born July 28, 1947, he was the youngest son of Vern and Vera Price and was the first serviceman from Macoupin County to be killed in the Vietnam War. He was buried in Bunker Hill Cemetery. More than 1,200 people paid their respects at his services, according to newspaper accounts. A small memorial erected three months later in Dorchester in southern Macoupin County is believed to be the first memorial erected in Illinois for a soldier killed in Vietnam.

Price’s sister, Judy Schwallenstecker, lives in Bunker Hill and attended Monday’s ceremony along with her husband, Ollie Schwallenstecker; her daughter, Pam Monetti; her sister, Betty Craddick; and two of her brothers, Charlie Price and Steve Price. Judy Schwallenstecker said the Price family was touched by the turnout and thanked everyone for their dedication to her brother.

“After 50 years, you still don’t get over it. It’s still very, very hard to take,” she said.

“When Gary left for Vietnam, I don’t think any of us knew what Vietnam was at the time, but believe you me, it was brought home to us very quickly. We are very proud of Gary. He didn’t really want to go, but he did what he had to do at the time. I just want you all to know that we still love Gary, we miss him, and I thank you all for coming.”

Gary Wayne Price posthumously was awarded numerous medals and commendations, including the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantry Badge, the Vietnam Service Medal with one Service Star, the Vietnam Campaign Medal and the National Defense Service Medal.

Senate Joint Resolution 32, sponsored by Manar and McCann in the Senate, authorizes the memorial highway designation. It was sponsored by State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Raymond, in the House.

PHOTO: Sen. Andy Manar and Judy Schwallenstecker study Pfc. Gary Wayne Price’s dress uniform cap following Monday’s highway dedication ceremony in Gillespie.

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