A Life Lived: Joel Bishop bore the scars of two American conflicts

Published 11:42 am Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Perhaps, there always was a soldier inside Thomas Joel Bishop, who was a fighter to the end. But, it was on the battlefield far from home that he demonstrated his courage and love for his country.

Bishop served two tours of active duty with the U.S. Army in Vietnam and later fought in Desert Storm in the Army National Guard. And later, he tried to re-enlist for active duty, when his son, Ben, joined the Marine Corps.

Highly decorated, Bishop earned three Purple Hearts, three Bronze Stars with Valor, a National Defense Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Presidential Unit Citation Medal, Combat Action Badge, Republic Vietnam Medal, Kuwait Liberation Medal, a Silver Star, Global War on Terrorism Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Army Achievement Medal, among others.

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“My dad was a very brave man, and he loved his country. He received all his wartime wounds in Vietnam,” shared his son, Ben.

He noted that after Vietnam, his father worked at the VA at Mountain Home as a surgical tech. “He didn’t talk a lot about his military service, but in Vietnam he was a tanker with an Army Cavalry Unit. He only weighed about 110 pounds, so he was used as a ‘tunnel rat.’ He could squeeze into small holes and places,” Ben said.

Ben, who retired from the Marines, said his father was an inspiration to him. “He made me proud,” he shared.

Bishop was raised on Stoney Creek, the son of the late Thomas Bill and Mamie Mae Lewis Bishop. He attended Unaka schools.

In addition to his time in Vietnam, Bishop also served on active duty in Germany. “All of his wounds were received in Vietnam,” said Ben.

Ben said his father had a wonderful sense of humor, and never met a stranger. He loved his family, especially his grandchildren. Ben was married to Wilma Wilson Bishop for 44 years. Wilma retired as a teacher at Tri-Cities Christian School. In addition to Ben, Joel Bishop was the father of two other children, Jeff Lee Murr and Emily Rose Crusenberry.

Joe enjoyed the outdoors and nature. His favorite things to do was to travel and fish. “He fished any time he got the chance. Some of his favorite fishing spots were the south fork of the Holston and the Watauga River in Black Bottom. “He fished all the local rivers. Another one of his favorite places to fish was the trophy section of the Watauga River. He fished for bass and trout. Dad never kept anything he caught, he always released it back into the river,” Ben shared.

In addition to fishing, Joel liked to travel, especially the Great Lakes, which he fished; Hershey, Pa., and other places. Ben said his father enjoyed meeting new people. “He was friendly with everyone. He could easily spend two or three hours in conversations,” he said.

Joel also enjoyed watching old westerns on TV and UT football. “He also enjoyed church,” said Ben. Joel was a member of Green Pine Baptist Church, but attended Zion Baptist Church.

Joel was a fighter, who never gave up. He died June 14 following a lengthy illness and had spent some time at Lakebridge Nursing Home.

He was laid to rest June 17 at the VA Cemetery at Mountain Home. Joel Bishop was 73 years of age at the time of his death.

Self-denial and self-discipline were marks of Joel Bishop’s character. They also are recognized as the outstanding qualities of a good soldier.

Joel Bishop loved life, but he wasn’t afraid to give his life for the things he loved. He was one brave man.