November 06, 2003, Thursday, Final Edition
HEADLINE: Richard R. Conger, Navy Specialist In Underwater Photography, Dies
BYLINE: Patricia Sullivan, Washington Post Staff Writer
Richard Russell Conger, 82, a Navy photographer who specialized in underwater and cold-weather photography, died Oct. 9 of complications from colon cancer at his home in Ijamsville.
Mr. Conger was a resident of Chevy Chase from 1967 until 1996, when he moved to Leisure World in Silver Spring. He had lived in Frederick County since 1999.
Mr. Conger, who was born in Detroit, enlisted in the Navy in 1938. He was one of five people chosen to learn cinematography from the staff who made the "March of Time" newsreels, an experiment to see if non-Navy training would be useful to the military. On his nights off, he worked at Life magazine to learn still photography.
Assigned to aerial mapping, he photographed or filmed many Pacific islands and Japan during World War II.
In 1946, he went to the Antarctic, where he would travel three more times.
The Bluejacket, a civilian publication that covers the Navy, reported that a plane carrying an eight-person crew and the captain of the USS Pine Island crashed into the icy mountains. After the wreck was discovered 23 days later, the plane that Mr. Conger was assigned to undertook the rescue mission, but the closest place to land was 12 miles away. The rescue plane's commander and Mr. Conger set out in a lifeboat, threading their way through ice-choked waters and pulling a sled. They reached the crew, got them aboard the lifeboat and arrived back at their plane just in time to take off before they would have been iced in. Six of the rescued crew members survived.
Mr. Conger told a Pensacola, Fla., newspaper that he and his crew were enthusiastically received during one Antarctic trip to a naval station. But when their plane had engine trouble and the visitors were stuck at the station for six weeks, the personnel there turned standoffish. The station didn't have enough food, bed or space for the extra people, but the visitors redeemed themselves by pitching in on chores and other work.
In 1947, Mr. Conger and a commander found the Mount Erebus hut that was abandoned in 1910 by polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. Mr. Conger's photographs showed that the hut was just as Shackleton's team had left it.
A glacier was named for Mr. Conger in 1948, according to the policy at the U.S. Board of Geographic Names of honoring those who have advanced hydrographic and geodetic work. The glacier flows to Antarctica's Knox Coast, five miles east of Glenzer Glacier.
Mr. Conger also made amphibious-warfare training films. He developed underwater motion photography to make training films for demolition teams. In 1949 and 1950, he was lent to the 20th Century Fox studio to shoot underwater sequences for the 1951 movie "The Frogmen," starring Richard Widmark. He was sent to the Arctic in the early 1950s to shoot photos for maps. In 1963, he took the first combat photo team into Vietnam.
He retired in 1969 as a lieutenant after 28 years in the service. Among his awards was the Air Medal.
He worked briefly as government sales manager for a photo chemical company and in 1974 went to work in the micrographics department at the National Archives. From 1981 to 1986, he worked in Bechtel Power Co.'s micrographic division in Rockville and also ran his own business, Conger Consultants, to repair and service microfilm equipment and cameras. In the 1990s, he worked part time at a tropical fish and pond retail shop in Ijamsville.
His wife of 55 years, Eleanor M. Conger, died in 1998.
Survivors include three children, Sue Bernard of Augusta, W.Va., Richard S. Conger of Rockville and Laurie J. Ridgway of Frederick; two sisters; a half brother; six grandchildren; 16 great-grandchildren; and three great-great-grandchildren.