Did a chaplain's fake Purple Heart erase good deeds?
National Guard Capt. Kurt Bishop was a respected chaplain. But store-bought military decorations – including a Purple Heart – ruined his career. Do they erase his good deeds in an Afghanistan combat hospital?
As he turned in his discharge papers in 1991 after four years in the Army's 82nd Airborne, 22-year-old Specialist Kurt Bishop decided he was going to change his life. Growing up, he had always hovered at the periphery of groups – not quite an outcast, but never at the center. His father was a retired fighter pilot; his brother flew helicopters for the National Guard, and though they never showed him anything but love, he was well aware that even during his nine-month deployment during Desert Storm, he had worked at a desk, not in a cockpit. He was the guy infantry soldiers teasingly call a POG – Position Other than Grunt.Skip to next paragraph
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So on that afternoon in 1991, he walked into a uniform store and bought four ribbons – color-coded insignia that signify military honors and medals. Mr. Bishop knew that a chestful of decorations made people go, "Wow!"
The ones he bought included a Purple Heart, awarded to those wounded or killed serving the country, and a Bronze Star with a 'V' that recognizes heroism in combat. Nobody asked any questions – the sale and purchase of decorations is not illegal or monitored. He also bought seven badges that denoted advanced military training – including a Rangers patch, which marks the wearer as one of the Army's elite.
Had the former tennis jock just stashed the medals away as a sort of talisman, nobody would have gotten hurt. But, in 1996, Bishop chose to make a career in the Arizona National Guard, using them to bolster his application for officer status. Having literally heard a calling, he became a military chaplain, serving in Afghanistan where he took on extra duties at a field hospital and built a reputation for relieving tension with humor and personal accessibility.
Bishop's is a morality tale of the destructive power of lies – they have killed his career and wiped out his family's financial security. Casting a pall over 20 years of service to his country, the lies have even thrown into question the good he did as a chaplain: If the man counseling troubled troops was living a lie, does this negate the comfort and aid he offered?
It was in the tense moments after a rocket attack that the Monitor first met Bishop in April 2007 at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Salerno in southeastern Afghanistan. The first lieutenant appeared, round-faced and smiling, at the mouth of a bunker full of soldiers and contractors. He was stopping in on his way to the hospital, where he went after every attack in case there were casualties.
Bishop did his job as a chaplain "better than most," hospital commander Lt. Col. Richard Phillips said at the time. "He's part of the team," meaning Bishop was right there in the fray – handing nurses bandages, gathering bloodied swabs, counseling a frazzled tech – not sitting in his office waiting for people to come to him.