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United Methodist ensures each hometown soldier gets parade

 


United Methodist ensures each hometown soldier gets parade

Dec. 6, 2004       

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Lisa Bishop has organized 17 parades for soldiers returning to Cookeville, Tenn.

By Lindsay Ferrier*
 
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) — Flanked by his wife and child, Pfc. George McCready sits atop a city fire engine and beams at the bustling streets.
 
The scene is a far cry from the war-torn roads of Fallujah, where McCready spent time guarding a bridge from suicide bombers. 
 
On this November afternoon, he is receiving a hero’s welcome home from Iraq, acting as grand marshal in a parade held just for him. As the procession winds through downtown streets, bordered with cheering Putnam County residents, McCready’s joy is evident. 
 
“I’ve been gone a long time,” he says. “It feels good to be home.”
 
McCready is one of more than a dozen Cookeville soldiers whose return from Iraq has been celebrated with a citywide parade. National Guard member Frank Robertson led his own parade just a few weeks earlier.
 
Remembering the feelings of pride and honor it stirred within him, Robertson showed up to join the crowd cheering for McCready. “It just brings tears to your eyes to see your little girl next to you smiling and waving, to see your wife glassy eyed with that big smile,” he recalls. “It’s the best feeling in the world.”
 
The parades are the idea of Lisa Bishop, a United Methodist and president of the Putnam County Soldier Support Group.
 
In addition to organizing 17 parades as of Dec. 1, her group helps the soldiers’ families back home in Cookeville. Members do all they can to answer the families’ physical, emotional and spiritual needs. 
 
“We don’t see color and we don’t see branches,” Bishop says. “We see soldiers and heroes. We see families left behind.  If you need us, we are there.” 
 
Bishop can’t recall how she came up with the idea to hold parades for returning soldiers. She knew she wanted the returning troops to receive better treatment than two of her brothers did when they returned home from serving in Vietnam. Bishop has five brothers, who have a combined total of 102 years in the military.

Once the idea of the parades entered her mind, she knew she had to act. The quick support she received from city officials led her to conclude a higher presence was behind the idea. 
 
“It shocks me sometimes,” she says with a laugh, recalling the ease with which her plan came to fruition.  “Where did it come from?  It didn’t come from me; it came from God because I don’t think that way.”
 
The first parade was held July 4, 2003, for a special soldier: her son, Lance Cpl. Mathew Bishop.
 
Bishop’s pastor, Friendship United Methodist Church’s Gerald Taylor, believes the parades help wash away the horrors of war for returning soldiers. 
 
“It’s a moment that will stay with them the rest of their lives,” he says. “Those guys swell up. You can’t keep from smiling, and they can’t keep from smiling.” 
 
Bishop’s efforts prove that with divine inspiration and a little effort, anyone can make a positive difference in the lives of others, Taylor says. “Lisa is a minister, as we all are, and she is very effective. She gets cards and calls from some of those people that she’s their angel, and what bigger compliment can you get than that?”
 
Inspired by Bishop’s zeal, Taylor has begun placing local soldiers’ pictures on his church’s altar each Sunday. Church members are encouraged to approach the altar during services to pray for the safe return of their local heroes.
 
Taylor also has opened his church to Bishop’s support group for projects and storage needs. Group members are using church space to prepare hundreds of Christmas presents to send to Putnam Country soldiers stationed in Iraq. The gifts are small, but significant. Some soldiers will receive $10 bills. Others will get decorated paper towel rolls filled with hard candy, a creative gift Bishop designed especially for the soldiers when they’re out on patrol. The paper towel rolls are small enough to fit inside soldiers’ vests, and candy can be pulled out one piece at a time.
 
Bishop’s favorite way to support local soldiers continues to be the personal parades, and she hopes her idea will catch on in other towns. She never tires of seeing the line of fire engines, police vehicles and decorated private cars as they roll through the streets. The parades begin with a public ceremony, awarding the soldier a key to the city, and end wherever the soldier would like, often at his or her own front door.
 
McCready has a different destination in mind for his parade. The memory of field rations – or “meals ready to eat,” in Army parlance – is still fresh, and he grins as the fire engine pulls into the parking lot of his favorite restaurant.
 
“It’s my decision,” he says. “Golden Corral has good food. Anything beats MREs.”
 
*Ferrier is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tenn.
 
News media contact: Fran Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or
newsdesk@umcom.org.
 
 
 
 

 

 

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