We are down to the last few days before Memorial Day, and only six days left in May after, so like everyone else we are pushing hard to have the cemetery in tip-top shape.
These articles have been on those laid to rest here at Forest Hill Cemetery — interesting people, people with a great story, stories that need to be told and retold for decades to come — I hope I made it interesting in learning some of their history. Nevertheless, I need to turn the tide a little and write about interesting people in my life. Those I have met and have been honored to hear their stories.
This all started from the stories my father (who left us several months ago) told me and stories from those who served in World War II, as well as, a few of the memories I have of those who served in Vietnam. There is no particular order in which I tell these stories and, of course, their entire stories cannot be written here, as there would not be any room left!
I will start by saying, “No, I did not serve my country.” I turned of age at the end of the Vietnam Conflict so my life took another path, but I never lost the feeling I should have been a door gunner. Something to look forward to, hanging outside a door on a UH-1 helicopter. My dad, however, was a B-25 crew member stationed in the China, Burma, and India Theater during World War II. He got the job when a group of new inductees were going through a building and he noticed a Monarch Machine. He stated he had run one during his high school years and the officer in charge replied, “Good, that’s your new job, the rest of you men follow me.” That was his path during World War II and working on B-25’s.
Did you know we have a gentleman laid to rest here who was a member of the Tuskegee Air Man during World War II? (By the way, they started off slow, with little hope of getting anywhere, but later found themselves in P-51’s. They owned the skies while escorting bombers.) He was killed during the war and returned to Piqua for burial. I did not know him but met several members of his family.
I have also met and listened to stories from several pilots of B-29’s. In fact, one of the pilots has never flown since leaving the Army Air Corp after the war. I also had the pleasure of speaking with Paul Tibbett, the pilot of the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb. I have a large picture of the B-29 he and several remaining crew members signed and now hangs on a wall. Paul is buried in the Columbus area in an unmarked grave. He does not have a monument for fear it will be damaged yet, because of what the crew did, they actually saved the lives of hundreds of thousands.
A good friend of mine, whose father was one of the first soldiers to step foot on Omaha Beach and slept in holes in the ground made by German bombs, said sleeping bags smelled bad. That most of the time they slept with their heads inside because it was too (expletive) cold outside. He also stated he hadn’t taken a bath or shower in maybe six months.
I even had the privilege of taking my father to Washington D.C. to see the World War II Memorial. We flew on a plane from the Honor Flight with over a hundred World War II veterans and escorts — they all had stories. I listened to stories from pilots who flew A-10’s in Iraq to a pilot and crew member of A-1 Skyraiders in Vietnam.
Did you know there are family members here in Piqua of a father and grandfather who flew in a plane that followed the B-29 Enola Gay? One was to take pictures but had no idea what was happening.
One day I will never forget, a large number of us were playing football in the park when several cars pulled up to a house across the street. Military personnel stepped out and one of our players ran home as it was his house. However, he soon ran back outside and disappeared after the family was informed they had lost their son (his brother) in Vietnam.
As I close I want to say May is a great time of year for me. I have met many great people here at the cemetery but this month, for all my years, meant listening to and now watching the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” When I was a kid, I would tape an AM radio to my bicycle and listen to the race. Even today I have to hear the beginning of the race on the radio and then I close out the day with NASCAR’s Coke 600.
Truly, this Memorial Day, let us all give thanks to those who gave the most for us, those who gave years out of their lives to serve us. THANK YOU!
Jim Roth is the Superintendent for the Forest Hill Cemetery