Retired Air Force general shares heartfelt Memorial Day memories during virtual ceremony
Lt. Gen. Rod Bishop gives keynote speech for Breckenridge Heritage Alliance video event
BRECKENRIDGE — The novel coronavirus pandemic did not stop the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance from hosting an annual Memorial Day commemoration on Monday. More than 120 people tuned into a 49-minute Zoom video conference during which Air Force Lt. Gen. Rod Bishop, a part-time resident of Summit County, gave an emotional keynote speech.
Wearing his military uniform — a uniform he wore daily for nearly four decades before his retirement in 2008 — Bishop spoke for a little over 20 minutes tying together a handful of stories around his core message for the day. Memorial Day is a day to remember those who have died, he said, to remember how terrible war can be, and to teach younger generations the sacrifices of those who have gone before them. But, for Bishop, it’s also a day for him to reflect on how much history could have been changed if it were not for the men and women who gave their lives for others.
“So, perhaps, you too are here today for one of these reasons,” Bishop said. “Or perhaps you’re here in remembrance of all those doctors and nurses, those front-line workers and other health care workers who have died in the last few months so others could live.”
Bishop, a former deputy director of Air Force operations at the Pentagon, shared three Europe-based Memorial Day memories from his time serving in several roles, including as vice commander of U.S. operations in Europe where he oversaw all air and space activities in Europe and Africa — a total of 93 countries. Bishop said he chose to share these personal stories because it was memories of international citizens celebrating the American holiday that crystallized Memorial Day’s importance for him.
His first European memory was from 2005 in Dresden, Germany. That was the year the Dresden Frauenkirche Lutheran church was rebuilt after it was destroyed during World War II. After a ceremony with German and Russian military, an officer turned to Bishop.
“He said, ‘You know, it is important that we do this so we don’t forget how terrible war is,'” Bishop said.
He then spoke of a 2006 Memorial Day pilgrimage to an underground basilica at Our Lady of Lourdes in France, a site where every year since World War II, 51 armed forces from across Europe gathered.
“This would have been the 62nd-straight year if it had not been for the coronavirus pandemic,” Bishop said. “It’s already scheduled for next year.”
As the general and his wife watched the ceremony, a tearful elderly French couple ran for the American flag and thanked the American forces for liberating their town in 1944.
“Although my last name is Bishop,” the general said, “the other half of me is Irish. And my mom would always tell me, ‘the bladder and the tear duct connection on us Irishmen is very close.’ And I began to weep with them. And I thought, ‘Yes, that’s another great reason for Memorial Day. To thank those who have given their all for us.’”
Go to this link to watch the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance’s full Zoom virtual Memorial Day celebration, including Lt. Gen. Rod Bishop’s keynote speech. The password to watch is “5t!e17dO.”
The final European Memorial Day memory the general spoke of took place in Paris and Normandy, the site of the Allied Forces’ D-Day invasion. Bishop was taken aback at how the mayor of Normandy was so thankful to the American forces. Days later, on Memorial Day, he wept when a French high school choir at the Arc de Triomphe sang the American national anthem in English.
“I wish I could share the words I feel in my heart about that,” Bishop said.
The general then tied those stories together with a personal family story. He spoke of giving the eulogy for his father-in-law two years ago, who on June 15, 1944, was one of 8,000 Marines who stormed the beaches of Saipan — similar to the D-Day invasion — in the western Pacific Ocean for the U.S. during World War II. Bishop described how his father-in-law had once told him as he departed his amphibious landing craft for the beach, he turned to speak to his best friend only to find him dead. That made the general think back to the Russian general in Dresden.
In putting the eulogy together, Bishop said one of his sisters-in-law told him how appreciative she was her father had fought for her liberties, which made the general think of the elderly French couple.
“He was fighting for land that was within the bombing range of Japan,” Bishop said in his father-in-law’s eulogy, “hoping to avoid an invasion of the Japanese mainland because the estimates were a million to a million-and-a-half Americans would die. Since Dad was in the closest marine division to Japan, chances are he could have been one of them.
“So, guess what,” he continued at the eulogy. “Those memories you just shared, you wouldn’t have. Those mothers you have, you wouldn’t have. To my three brother-in-laws, we may have a wife, but it wouldn’t be the four daughters that were there that day. So that kind of sums that up for me.”
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