To remember, to honor, to teach

PIQUA — At Forest Hill Cemetery, a great-grandson honors the memory of his great-grandfather with a wreath laid on his grave.

“He served in World War II, and he was on the USS Franklin when it got bombed,” Jack McMaken said while reflecting on the memory of his great-grandfather, James “Jim” McMaken. “I’ve had a bunch of relatives who have served, and I just like to keep their memory alive.”

McMaken, along with countless others across the country, participated in Wreathes Across America on on Saturday, Dec. 19. He, along with 19 other boys who are part of the Piqua Braves baseball team, gathered at Forest Hill to place some 600 wreathes on veteran’s graves in the cemetery.

The late Jim McMaken attended Piqua City Schools before enlisting in the United States Navy; he began his career with the Miami County Sheriff’s Office on Aug. 1, 1963, was appointed chief deputy until Jan. 1, 1973 when he was elected to the office of sheriff of Miami County until his retirement on Jan. 2, 1977. According to family members, he often said he survived the bombing of the Franklin because he couldn’t swim.

“(This is) to keep the memory alive of veterans that served for us, because they’re doing a good deed for the whole nation,” Jack said.

The Piqua Braves have volunteered for the event in previous years and was chosen this year in lieu of having public volunteers due to guidelines in place to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Jeremy Laughman, vice president of the Piqua Braves Baseball Board, said that the team volunteers throughout the community, and this is the second year they’ve volunteered to participate in Wreaths Across America.

“We’re an organization that strives with Piqua, and we try to do things to help our community,” Laughman said. “The kids enjoy it, just helping out.”

Forest Hill Director Pam Calendine said that the players volunteering worked out because there are two sections of the cemetery that have a number of veterans graves, and that made following social distancing guidelines easier.

Being able to hold the event, even without the traditional ceremony and the volume of volunteers Forest Hills has had in the past, was a blessing for Calendine and many others because it’s a reminder that there are still good things in such uncertain times.

“I think it’s one of those things people look forward to every year, and I always bring my kids, so it teaches them to be thankful to the veterans. It’s only a wreath, but the wreath means honor and we remember everything they’ve done for us,” Calendine said.

While there was no formal ceremony this year, wreathes honoring each branch of the United States Military were placed on the Veteran’s Monument across from the cemetery. According to Forest Hill Superintendent Jim Roth, this is the third year the cemetery is overseeing the laying of wreathes and while the number of volunteers is significantly smaller due to restrictions, the meaning behind the event has not changed.

“I think it’s the idea that we’re reaching out to those who gave up a lot of their life to go overseas and fight, or gave up their life in the line of service to the country.” Roth said. “It just means a lot to us, to give something back to those individuals.”