View Full Version : LI soldier grateful at home

11-24-05, 06:34 AM
LI soldier grateful at home
November 23, 2005, 9:51 PM EST

Former U.S. Marine Cpl. Matthew Bishop says he is happy to be home for the first Thanksgiving with his family in three years.

The Connetquot High School graduate, who drove a personnel carrier during two tours in Iraq, says it is what he remembers of last year's holiday season that makes him so appreciative of being home with family this year in Sayville.

On a day between Thanksgiving and Christmas last year, Bishop was given the mission of ferrying fellow Marines into the treacherous streets of Fallujah.

Iraqi insurgents had infiltrated the city, and the Marines had been ordered to sweep them from their hiding places.

A Marine from Georgia that Bishop knew, Lance Cpl. Jeffery Blanton, had been among those who Bishop dropped off for door-to-door searches.

Shortly after he stepped from Bishop's vehicle, Blanton pushed open the door of a Fallujah house. A nest of insurgents awaited him.

"He was hit in the head, in the chest, everywhere," Bishop, 23, remembered. "He didn't have a chance."

Nor did he have to be there, said Bishop, who recalled that Blanton had just returned from a gunshot wound of his foot. "He had just gotten back from the hospital the day before."

Bishop helped carry Blanton's body away in a blanket.

For Bishop, death provided grim bookends to last year's holiday season.

Three weeks before last Thanksgiving, six Marines Bishop had worked with were killed in a car bombing as they were preparing for the Fallujah operation.

Then, on Jan. 26 of this year, 31 Marines were killed when a helicopter crashed in a sandstorm -- the deadliest single incident of the war for U.S. forces -- as they were leaving the Fallujah operation.

Bishop knew every one of them.

"These guys lived through the worst of the battles of Fallujah and then went down in a sandstorm," he said. "It's hard to believe."

As millions of Americans usher in the Thanksgiving holiday today, 155,000 uniformed personnel are serving in Iraq, and another 17,000 are in .Afghanistan.

A spokesman in Baghdad said the military will provide traditional turkey dinners to virtually all U.S. personnel in both countries.

Sgt. Kevin Hallinan, 28, of the U.S. Army National Guard, said spirits often plummet during the holiday season, as soldiers on the battlefield long for the familiarity of home.

"I've never seen my guys so miserable in their lives," said Hallinan, a Huntington volunteer firefighter who returned from Iraq in January. "Thanksgiving and Christmas especially, you could really see the morale go down big time."

Bishop, who was among the first U.S. troops in Iraq in March 2003 and who returned to Iraq to fight again last year, says reflection upon his two tours leaves him thankful for his own good fortune.

Although he knew more than three dozen Marines who perished in Iraq, and an insurgent's bullet aimed at him once lodged in a music caddy he was carrying, he survived dozens of missions with hardly a scratch.

He came across an old high school friend during a home leave earlier this year, and they have become sweethearts. He is now studying psychology at Dowling College in hopes of making a career as a police officer.

This year, his parents have promised to make the one thing Bishop missed the most about Thanksgiving dinners at home: his mother's chocolate cream pie in a graham cracker crust.

"It's as if a weight has been lifted from him," said his mother, Barbara Bishop. "He's smiling again."

Last Thanksgiving, in Fallujah, Bishop ate turkey and mashed potatoes trucked in from a nearby base. It was his first cooked meal in a month, and he ate it quickly while sitting in the gathering dusk at an abandoned house.

He had only enough time to wolf it down before rushing back to his vehicle and setting off on another patrol.

It was a Thanksgiving he will never forget. This year, he will savor the meal.

"We ate as quickly as we could," Bishop said. "It was pretty much us and the insurgents."