Elmer's Tune  
A Homage To My Father

Richard Franklin Bishop

© Copyright 2014 by Richard Franklin  Bishop   

Photo of Richard's father and mother.

This year is the centennial of World War I.  It’s now been 96 ½ years since my Father, Elmer Jewell Bishop, “joined-up” with the U. S. Army for service in the latter years of WW I. Although, in his case, it was somewhat different since he volunteered by enlisting in Company “B” of the 3rd Illinois National Guard, a State organization.

He, at age 19 ½, and 21 other recruits signed-on 19 August 1917 at Hoopeston, Illinois, and were each given a snap-fastened, khaki-bound NEW TESTAMENT of the Holy Bible by the Reverend E. V. Headen, Pastor of the Presbyterian Church in nearby Rankin, Illinois. The Pastor’s name was put inside the little book as the “Presenter.” It was a neat little volume, measuring 3” wide by 4” high by ¾ of an Inch thick; complete with separate pages for the words of: “Onward Christian Soldiers”, “The “Star Spangled Banner”, “America”, and the “Battle Hymn Of The Republic.”

His service in the Illinois National Guard didn’t last long because he was sent to Camp Logan, near Houston, Texas, “one of sixteen U.S. Army National Guard Mobilization and Training Camps established in 1917 to train and integrate National Guard units for service in a U. S. Army division; this one became namely the 33rd (Yellow Cross) Division. The first phase of camp construction was completed 15 August 1917 - just four days before my Father enlisted. He said: “My memories of Basic Training in Texas are: it’s the only place in the World where you can stand up to your knees in mud with the wind blowing dust into your eyes.” The 33rd was officially organized 27 Aug 1917 and departed for France in April-May 1918. My Father actually sailed from Hoboken, N.J. on 9 May 1918 bound for Brest, France serving with them as a Private First Class (PFC), Company B, 129th Infantry.

He had received training as an Automatic Rifleman. The favored weapon was to be a B.A.R. (Browning Automatic Rifle known as the “BAR”). The BAR “came to be also known as the M1918 or Rifle, Caliber .30, Automatic, Browning, M1918 according to official nomenclature.” : It had a Firing Rate of 500-650 Rounds per minute from a 20 Round clip (box) Magazine. It weighed 16 lb. But this fine new weapon was “not to be” for the U.S. Expeditionary Corps. A few delays and it did not get into production until June of 1918.

Browning M1918

And so, The U. S. Expeditionary Corps were given what the English and French had used up until then; the Lewis Gun from the British Army and the Chauchat from the French Army (nick-named “Sho-Sho” by the American Doughboys). My Father considered himself lucky because he drew a Lewis Machine Gun with a Firing Rate of 500-600 Rounds per minute from a circular (pan or drum) magazine of either 47 or 97 Rounds. He was happy even if it weighed 28 lb.:

Lewis Gun

He used to laugh about the fact that he could jam-pack rags into the air-cooling shroud and just one shot would pull them all out of there.

The Chauchat fired at the rate of 240 Rounds per minute from a Magazine of 20 Rounds. It weighed 20 lb.:

Chauchat Machine Gun

Over time, the Chauchat machine rifle's just passable performance in its dominant version (the Mle 1915 in 8mm Lebel) and the (total) failure of its limited version in U.S. 30-06 (the Mle 1918), have led some modern experts to assess it as the "worst machine gun" ever fielded in the history of warfare." Wikipedia.  

This agrees with my father's assessment.

My Father’s World War I Victory Medal includes three Campaign Clasps (Bars):

Then the Hospital, Base 22, Bordeaux, France - Sailed for home on 7 December 1918 as a Patient (exactly 23 years before Pearl Harbor and WW II). Arrived at Camp Merrit, N.J. on 14 December 1918. As a consequence of the Gas attack, he was considered a Patient from 5 October 1918 until his Honorable Discharge on 19 January 1919 by the 161st Provost Division, Camp Grant, Rockford, Ill.

Follow-on examinations revealed he was suffering from Tuberculosis allowed by the weakening of his Lungs from the Gas attack. Through treatments, the TB was pronounced “arrested” by September, 1922. No further complications of the TB arose the rest of his life, even though he was to become a 1 pack-a-day Smoker for the next 18 years (until he quit smoking in 1940 after an Appendix Operation). He did receive a small monthly disability pension from the VA.

The loss of his Pack was the event of consequence that concerns us here. From 1922, fast-forward 17 years. My Father received a letter dated 2 December 1939 from a Reverend Ralph E. Jasper of the Presbyterian Church in Rankin, Illinois.

The Reverend had just received a letter from Northern Ireland requesting the address, if known, of Elmer Bishop, whose name appeared in a NEW TESTAMENT along with the name of the “Presenter” the Reverend E. V. Headen.

The Reverend E. V. Headen had left Rankin, Illinois some twenty years before (shortly after my Father had enlisted) and the Reverend Ralph E. Jasper was now the Pastor of the Presbyterian Church there. Here is the letter my Father received from Rev. Jasper sent on 2 December 1939 which is quoted below:

“Rankin Illinois
December 2, 1939.
Mr. Elmer Bishop
Kalamazoo, Mich.

Dear Sir: -

I received a letter from a Mr. Charles Dick inIreland about one month ago and he was hunting (for) you or some of your relatives. He had done a favor for a man there and the man gave him a New Testament. The man said that he had picked it up on the battlefield near Ypres, Belgium. The Bible had been given to the “Elmer Bishop by the Rev. E. W. Headon (sic) of the Rankin Presbyterian church". He (was) thinking maybe the soldier was killed (and) that his parents or family would love to have it. He wrote to the (former) Pastor of the church here and I got it. I
have tried to find you. The people here knew you were in Michigan but none seem to know just where.
I wrote to a Wilbur Reeder in Indiana (the last known contact point for the Reverend E. V. Headen) but received no answer. I saw in the paper this week where you had visited the Morris'. I went down to see them and they gave me your address. I am sending it (to) the man in Ireland and he will send you the Bible. I am sure you would love to have it again. If its history could be learned I am sure it would be interesting. It took Mr. Dick’s letter nearly a month to reach me, so I am sure it will be nearly two months before you hear from him. I would love to hear from you when you receive it.

Yours sincerely,

signed/ Ralph E. Jasper”

My Father then duly received a letter dated 29 December 1939 from a Charles Dick, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Mr. Dick had done a favor for someone and they had given him a memento for the service; a NEW TESTAMENT picked up near Ypres in France during the “great war” for human rights. My Father also received a Registered package dated as having been sent 30 December 1939 from Northern Ireland. From the contents of the missing Pack, only the NEW TESTAMENT was still extant. Just inside it was the name Elmer Bishop together with a nice
picture of the sender, Mr. Dick and his wife.

Naturally, receiving this information after 21 years just about “floored” him. So he called the Kalamazoo Gazette and a Reporter came out to the Farm and looked over the letters and the NEW TESTAMENT and made a very nice Newspaper article out of it (eleven column inches), complete with pictures & captions (6” X 5”):

Newspaper article and photo.

Caption above reads: A New Testament, lost by Elmer J. Bishop, Route 7, in the first World war, showed up in Northern Ireland from where it was returned to him this week after 21 years. Coming into his possession about four months ago, it was sent here by Charles Dick, Belfast, Northern Ireland, shown in the photograph at the left with his wife. Bishop (right) is studying the New Testament,  wondering over the course of events that led to its being returned to him after more than two decades had passed by.

 Route # 7, is in Kalamazoo County, Michigan; specifically 5719 Angling Road, a Farm of 240 acres that my Father had been managing for six years (since 23 September 1933). His stewardship continued for another 36 years until 13 September 1975. Altogether, he farmed there for 42 years, retiring at the age of 77 years and 7 months to Vintage Apartments, Paw Paw, Michigan over in Van Buren County.

He was always a good neighbor in the farming community. We didn’t have a Volunteer Fire Department, but I’m sure if we would have had one, he would have been a member. Once when a bad storm hit the area at night, the Clearstream Farm’s giant barn was struck by lightning and caught fire. We saw the red glow in the western sky when the wind & rain suddenly died down. That farm was 1 mile west of us on Townline Road and all 5 of us jumped into the car and made it over there within 15 minutes or so. My Father was there early enough to help move all of the Milk Cows and Horses out to safety before it burnt to the ground. Thanks to his quick help to the owners, not one animal was lost in this otherwise total loss.

In civilian life, my Father was always in the thick of such things. Another time in the mid-30s, we were sitting around in the evening listening to a Radio Program at night. My Mother had retired early. Soon she came bursting in to the room and said (valiantly trying to re-create a sound that she had heard): “I heard a loud noise from the distance going: eeeeeeeaaaaaooowww - Plop!” We ran around to all the windows and saw a red glow in the southern sky - my Father said: “It must be the Doxey Farm which was 1½ miles away to the south of us near where Romence Road crossed Angling Road. Again, we all jumped into the car and made it over there in 20 minutes. This time it was different. The red glow was not from any farm buildings. A light airplane had been trying to find and land at the Kalamazoo County Airport which was 5 miles east of us. The “little dry prairie” (as our area was called) was filled with patches of dense fog that night. They had gotten into a fog bank and didn’t know up from down and had flown right down (at cruising speed) into a vinyard next to the Doxey Farm. They didn’t get very far because they crossed the grape rows at a right-angle and the posts and wires worked like the arresting cable on an Aircraft Carrier. That should have been somewhat helpful but the aircraft caught fire instantly. Sadly, the benumbed Pilot and two Passengers died from the fire and smoke inhalation before they could be freed from the wreckage, even though there were other people on the scene within 15 minutes.

After telling us 3 Kids to stay back with our Mother, and advising all the other spectators now gathering to do the same, my Father rushed in with a couple of other men and they did their best to free the deceased persons before they would be burned beyond all recognition. Unfortunately, the rescuers had no gloves but instead had to use their own personal jackets to clasp the bodies and pull them out - that way mostly avoiding burnt hands. By the way, the Newspaper later said that the airplane was a Curtiss Robin; first introduced in 1928 - I remember that clearly since, remembering the accident, the first model airplane I ever built was that kind:

Curtiss Robin Monoplane

My Father has now been deceased 29 years and 4 months. One of my earliest memories of his “coolness under fire” was once when I was about 4 or 5 years of age. He was going out to plow with our old John Deere Tractor. Those early models were squat and quadratic with wide front wheels; not tall with two little wheels centered in the front like the later models.

I pleaded with him to let me ride along sitting on the low flat rear fender as he was making his rounds. He slowly acquiesced and finally said yes. The steel wheels on the rear had metal lugs about 3½” high and really gave a rough ride - even though its top speed was only about three miles per hour. I was the proudest person in the World to be able to sit up there with my Dad and lord it over all humanity!

His hesitancy was well founded. Wouldn’t you know it, after a while of jiggling to the tune of the loud, un-muffled engine noise, I was lulled asleep and fell off the right-hand fender right into the plow-furrow. Luckily for me, he quickly stopped the behemoth when he saw me sliding off forwards and that instant action (probably propelled me faster but it) kept me from being crushed under the lugged-wheel. After checking me over to see that I was not hurt from the fall, he kissed me on the forehead and said gently: “Go over there by the gate and wait for me to finish the round and then we’ll go up to the house.” I don’t remember what my Mother said to him about all this but, no doubt, it’s probably because all the screaming was done in private.

I have already described his handling of a fire in our REO Speedwagon truck in my story: Harvesting Trilogy - Part Two - Siloing: Corn. My Fear Of Heights at:


In the same story, I have told how he patiently talked me down off the top of a Silo when my “fear of heights” took over. And he was very understanding when a friend and I started a grass fire that required the Portage Fire Department to put it out. Also he was especially understanding and helpful when I shot a hole in a beautiful new House Trailer, by accident of course. Both incidents are in my story Trouble In River City at:


I still miss the times we went Fishing (he once actually caught a Bluegill with two working mouths - and got his picture in the Newspaper again for that). We fixed cars together - heavy stuff like complete overhauls with Rings and Valve jobs. We “baked” together in the Summer and “froze” together in the Winters riding on the Tractors. I was the youngest of his 3 children and I always felt like there was a special camaraderie; especially after I went away to the Military. I didn’t see him much during those 25 years - but the special bond was always felt whenever I was home on leave. I’m happy to say he lived 8 years beyond my Retirement from the Military on 30 September 1976.

Elmer J. Bishop died Armistice Day (now called Veteran’s Day), 11 November 1984, when his heart just “quit” beating at the age of 86 years and 9 months. He had “survived” the “War to end all Wars.” He had said goodbye to “the Gas and the Trenches” on 5 October 1918; had beaten the resulting Tuberculosis, and had lived a peaceful life for another 66 years after the first Armistice Day. Of that time, he had enjoyed 9 years of “lay-back” retirement living. Not bad for a Combat Veteran. As a child, I always thought of him as the perfect model of a U. S. Army Infantryman chosen to bear (special) arms.  As an adult, nothing changed my mind; if anything, his sterling qualities of steadiness and strength were disclosed and amplified without the distraction of a uniform.  I did my best in this modern world to emulate him; to stay out of jail and otherwise be a good citizen. I hope he was proud of me. I was proud of him.

   Contact Richard
(Unless you type the author's name
in the subject line of the message
we won't know where to send it.)

Richard Bishop's Biography and Story List

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher