Wisecup Honor Garden dedicated to three-star admiral


By Kathleen Leese

For Miami Valley Today

PIQUA — For retired U.S. Navy Vice Admiral James “Phil” Wisecup, a trip home to Piqua was a step back in time, as he found himself surrounded by several of his Piqua High School Class of 1973 friends and many others anxious to welcome him home for the dedication of the Wisecup Honor Garden at Piqua High School on Saturday, May 25.

Wisecup, the son of the late James and Bettye Wisecup of Piqua, is a member of the Piqua High School Class of 1973 and a 1977 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. He was director of the White House Situation Room and held commands with the U.S.S. Callaghan, Destroyer Squadron 21, Naval Forces Korea, Carrier Strike Group Seven and served as the president of the Naval War College as well as serving as the Naval Inspector General.

The ceremony began with the unveiling of a monument featuring an image of Wisecup in his Navy uniform along with his commands listed on the opposite side. Wisecup, together with his wife Anne, unveiled the monument, which he said was kept a surprise from him.

The Honor Stone was designed by Paul Sullenberger, Memorialist for Jamieson and Yannucci Funeral Home in Piqua. Sullenberger is a U.S. Navy veteran, having served on the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy and U.S.S. America. Sullenberger’s design for the Honor Stone was made a reality by Edwin F. Nickol Monuments, Inc., in Versailles.

Former Piqua Mayor Tom Hudson, who spearheaded the effort to create the garden and Honor Stone honoring Wisecup, addressed the crowd and welcomed those in attendance, noting that the $18,000 project is the result of many donations from classmates and others.

“This project wouldn’t happen today if not for the Class of 1973,” Hudson said, also acknowledging a generous donation from Park National Bank.

Hudson said he had the opportunity to visit Wisecup while he was director of the White House Situation Room, bringing laughter from the crowd as he shared how he offered to carry an attache case for Wisecup. Hudson said he suddenly realized what he was doing, saying, “I’ve got the director of the Situation Room’s attache case. What’s in it? A nuclear football?”

Hudson thanked those who made the Honor Garden possible, noting Piqua City Schools Superintendent Dwayne Thompson and Treasurer Jeremie Hittle were instrumental in the process.

“I can’t thank them enough,” Hudson said, noting Thompson suggested they place the Honor Garden in front of Piqua High School. “It came together.”

Hudson himself was surprised when an anchor was found for the Honor Garden. He made at least 20 phone calls trying to secure a Naval anchor to place at the garden, but had been unsuccessful. When he came Friday evening to check on the garden and the monument, Hudson found the anchor sitting there. The story of how it got there remains a secret. However, it is an official Naval anchor.

Hudson said he hopes the garden will “honor and inspire future Piqua graduates” to consider service to their country.

Also speaking at the ceremony was Piqua Mayor Kris Lee, who read a proclamation and presented it to Wisecup.

“There’s greatness from Piqua,” Lee said, telling Wisecup, “we appreciate all you have done.”

Miami County Commissioner Wade Westfall addressed the crowd as well. A member of the Piqua High School Class of 1979, he said he wanted to offer “deepest … congratulations” from the Miami County Commissioners, and telling Wisecup, “welcome home back to Piqua.”

Westfall noted that Memorial Day weekend is “especially poignant” for those who did not return home, such as Piqua Corporal Sam Pearson, He said there is also gratitude “for those who come home. We have a special sense of pride.”

Randy Chenault, assistant to U.S. Senator J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, spoke on behalf of Vance who was not in attendance and thanked him for his service, “Congratulations on your retirement from the U.S. Navy. Your tireless efforts have shaped the next generation of sailors.”

The keynote speaker for the ceremony was U.S. Congressman Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, 8th District, who served in the U.S. Army first as an infantryman and then attended West Point, becoming an Army Ranger.

“He (Wisecup) did it the right way out of high school. The service academies inspire you,” Davidson said, referring to Wisecup’s Naval Academy appointment.

Davidson told the crowd the monument honoring Wisecup “will be inspiring” to future generations, but he cautioned, joining the military can come at a cost.

“It’s free to join, but it can cost you everything.” Davidson added students in the United States are finding “service to our country is increasingly difficult.”

Davidson said “some of the agenda out there” is causing some students to feel “embarrassed to serve … it shouldn’t be that way.”

Davidson congratulated both Wisecup and his wife on his achievements, “You can’t get there alone. Thanks for the way you give back to the community. I hope it inspires future generations.”

Also speaking was Bill Ankney, of Sidney, president of the Piqua Class of 1973, “Phil, to you and your family, welcome home. Piqua has been blessed with those who became local heroes. Now we get to add you.”

Ankney said he wanted to acknowledge Wisecup’s dad, the late James Wisecup, a former Piqua teacher and former Piqua Schools superintendent, who was instrumental in bringing the Upper Valley Career Center (UVCC) to Piqua, “Your dad’s vision is impacting 1000’s of students,” Ankney said, adding that UVCC is in the top five percent of technical schools nationally.

Wisecup also spoke, acknowledging his appreciation for the honor.

“Thanks to everyone for showing (up). I’m honored by your presence,”Wisecup said, noting he was the last person nominated to a military academy by Congressman William McCulloch before his retirement. “Here we are 50 years later. All I can say is wow!”

Wisecup thanked his wife Anne, whom he called, “the love of my life (the) last 40 years” including through 20 moves throughout his career. He and his wife are the parents of five children and have seven grandchildren. After 36 years in the Navy, they split their time between a home in South Charleston, Ohio, and a home in Bismarck, North Dakota. But he said, he has never forgotten his roots.

“You can take the boy out of Ohio, but you can’t take Ohio out of the boy,” he said.

Following the ceremony, Wisecup said he was glad to be home, “This is a homecoming. I really appreciate it. To see people I haven’t seen — some in 50 years.”

Zoe Leasure, the Piqua High School Class of 2023 valedictorian and a student at The Ohio State University in music education, sang the National Anthem and God Bless America during the ceremony. The Rev. Will Leasure, pastor of Greene Street United Methodist Church, led the invocation and benediction. The Pledge of Allegiance was led by Valerie Mullikin, Founder and Director of Operation Veteran and Caregiver Support.

The writer is a regular contributor to Miami Valley Today.

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