A local mother’s memories of her fallen Marine son remain vivid almost seven years after his death in Afghanistan.
His desire to serve, the danger he faced and the overwhelming community support shown when he was laid to rest.
Sarah Thomas’ recollections of Cpl. John C. Bishop, a 2003 Columbus North High School graduate, will be stirred again in a little more than a week during a public memorial motorcycle ride that will honor the legacies of her son and 15 other southeastern Indiana men who died while serving in the United States armed forces.
The seventh annual Ride to Remember, planned for June 10 and 11, will take riders more than 300 miles to 14 sites for 30-minute memorial services for each of the fallen.
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Bishop’s service will be the last stop on the ride, 5 to 5:30 p.m. June 11 at Cliff Hill Cemetery in Versailles.
“They do the most honorable ceremony,” said Thomas, who lives in Columbus and attends each year.
Each ceremony includes:
A presentation of flags and a portrait
A reading of the fallen’s biography with medals and accomplishments
Placement of a memorial plaque
The singing of “God Bless America”
Placement of a rose
A three-gun volley salute
The playing of taps
Indiana Patriot Guard Riders, a group that honors the military, organized the first ride in 2011, almost a year after Bishop died.
“We made a promise to families that (their sons) would not be forgotten, and what better way to show they are not forgotten than by visiting the graves once a year and with a ride,” said Tim Kieffer, an Indiana Patriot Guard member and one of the ride organizers.
Thomas remembers how her son’s desire to join the Marines started.
It began with another son, Tyson Bishop, who was about 10 years older than John and had joined the Marines in the early 1990s.
“Every time Tyson would come home, he (John) would put on Tyson’s uniform. All he wanted to be was a Marine,” Thomas said.
“9/11 cemented it then.”
John Bishop joined the Marines on a deferment plan, signing up between his junior and senior years of high school, and leaving for boot camp after graduation.
He started at Camp Pendleton in California before moving on to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Soon after, he was deployed to Iraq.
Bishop was involved in fighting in Fallujah, something he wouldn’t talk about with his mother.
“He seemed like a different person when he came home,” Thomas said.
She said John tried to shield her from knowing — and worrying about — the dangers he faced later in Afghanistan, although he would tell his older brother, Tyson.
John often was the point man on door-to-door operations, Thomas said.
For example, on the day the military showed up to inform Thomas that John had died, she read a letter from him that she had received the previous day. In it John said not much was going on, Thomas said. Later she learned that Tyson received a letter the same day, but in it John described being fortunate that a trip wire he ran into wasn’t attached properly to a bomb and didn’t detonate — sparing the lives of many Marines.
Bishop died Sept. 8, 2010, in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan while serving with the 2nd Battalion 9th Marines. His company was ambushed while on patrol. Thomas said a sniper shot her son above his Kevlar bulletproof vest. He was 25 and left behind a wife, son and unborn daughter.
Bishop’s flag-draped casket was flown from Dover Air Force Base to North Vernon Municipal Airport, and from there a funeral procession wound through North Vernon streets en route to Versailles, where the family has roots and he was laid to rest.
People lined the route to pay their respects, something that has stuck with Thomas.
“There were so many people there to support us on the route from North Vernon to Versailles. I thought, ‘How did they know?’” Thomas said.
That was the first time she encountered the Indiana Patriot Guard Riders, who rode along the route to honor Bishop. They connected again the following year.
Thomas and her family sought their help in establishing a memorial ride — the Cpl. John C. Bishop Memorial Ride the second weekend in September each year in Versailles — and the Patriot Guard wanted to include Bishop among the military members to honor in their memorial ride.
A friendship between the two quickly formed, and has grown strong over the years as each has participated in the other’s rides.
“They definitely are family. We’ve gotten so close to all of them,” Thomas said of the Patriot Guard Riders.
“I would say we’re as close to family without being blood relations,” Kieffer said.
That relationship will grow stronger with another ceremony honoring Bishop. Thomas will be there, as always, although traveling by car instead of by motorcycle as she did the first two years.
Whether traveling by two wheels or four, though, the Indiana Patriot Guard Riders state that what’s most important is not forgetting the sacrifices of the fallen.
Who: John C. Bishop
What: Corporal in the United States Marine Corps
Age: 25; died Sept. 8, 2010 in Helmand Province, Afghanistan
High school: Columbus North, 2003 graduate; also attended Southwestern High School, Shelbyville; and South Ripley High School, Versailles
Family: Wife, Crystle; son, K-Sean; daughter, Ella; mother, Sarah Thomas; father, Eugene Bishop (deceased); brothers, William Bishop, Mike Bishop, Anthony Thomas, Eric Thomas, Jamey Bishop, Tyson Bishop; sisters, Nancy Braley, Amy Parker.
What: Seventh annual Ride to Remember for the southeast region of Indiana, a memorial motorcycle ride of more than 300 miles to honor fallen military members and their families.
When: June 10-11, rain or shine
Where: Gravesite stops in Batesville, Sunman, Aurora, Bennington, Madison, Scottsburg, Sellersburg, Clarksville, New Albany, Bartlettsville, Brownstown, Vernon, Versailles
Notable: Each stop includes a 30-minute memorial service that includes a presentation of flags and a portrait, recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, a welcome and recognition of Gold Star families, a reading of the fallen service member’s biography with medals and accomplishments, placement of a memorial plaque, singing of “God Bless America,” a poem recital, a prayer for the family and the fallen, a prayer for the fallen, placement of a rose, three-volley gun salute and the playing of taps.
7:30 a.m.: Ride briefing at Liberty Park, 716 S. Park Ave., Batesville
8-8:30: Honoring of Army Sgt. Chad L. Keith, Liberty Park in Batesville
9-9:30: Honoring of Army Pfc. Anthony P. Seig at a memorial site, 24017 Weisburg Road, Sunman.
10:45-11:15: Honoring of Army Pfc. Zachary S. Salmon at Riverview Cemetery, 3635 E. Laughery Creek Road, Aurora.
12-12:30 p.m.: Honoring of Army Sgt. Kenneth R. Booker at Slawson Cemetery on Bennington Pike, Bennington
1-2:30: Lunch break at Ponderosa Steakhouse, 327 Clifty Drive, Madison
2:45-3:15: Honoring of Army National Guard Spec. Jonathan D. Meke at Indiana Veterans Memorial Cemetery, 1415 MSH North Gate Road, Madison
3:45-4:15: Honoring of Army Sgt. Robert J. Montgomery at Scottsburg Cemetery, 499 S. Railroad St., Scottsburg
4:45-5:15: Honoring of Marine Cpl. Jordan L. Spears at Sellersburg Cemetery, 213 S. New Albany St., Sellersburg
Optional overnight stay at The Best Western Green Tree Inn, 1425 Broadway St. in Clarksville.
7:30 a.m.: Ride briefing at The Best Western Green Tree Inn in Clarksville
8-8:30: Honoring of Army Sgt. Jonathan K. Peney, Army Sgt. Steven Mennemeyer and Army Sgt. Matthew L. Deckard at a memorial site at Falls of the Ohio State Park, 201 W. Riverside Drive, Clarksville
8:45-9:15: Honoring of Army National Guard Spec. Carlos Wilcox IV at New Albany National Cemetery, 1943 Ekin Ave., New Albany
9:30-10: Honoring of Army Sgt. James Daniel Faulkner at Kraft-Graceland Memorial Park, 2778 Charlestown Road, New Albany
11 a.m.-1 p.m.: Lunch in Bedford at location to be determined
1:30-2: Honoring of Marine Cpl. Dustin L. Turpen at Bartlettsville Christian Church Cemetery, 3925 Dunn Bridge Road, Heltonville/Bartlettsville
2:45-3:15 p.m.: Honoring of Marine Lance Cpl. Hunter “HD” Hogan at the Veterans Memorials at the Jackson County Courthouse, 111 S. Main St., Brownstown
4-4:30: Honoring of Marine Lance Cpl. Jacky Koenig Jr. at Vernon Cemetery, 315 S. Pike St., Vernon
5-5:30: Honoring of Marine Cpl. John C. Bishop at Cliff Hill Cemetery, 210 N. Monroe St., Versailles
For more information: contact Tim Kieffer at 812-212-1297 or firstname.lastname@example.org