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Final farewell to LI soldier killed in Afghanistan

Family members look on as Staff Sgt. Keith

Family members look on as Staff Sgt. Keith Bishop's coffin is carried out of the church after his funeral service in Patchogue. (Nov. 9, 2009) Credit: Ed Betz

Staff Sgt. Keith Bishop, who died last month in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, was buried Monday with full military honors in the bright sunshine of a crisp autumn afternoon on eastern Long Island.

At Bishop's funeral at the United Methodist Church in Patchogue, his father recalled a son he playfully wrestled with in their Medford living room. A next-door neighbor described a fun-loving friend with whom he shared adventures, and a U.S. Army chaplain read a letter written by Bishop's widow, Margaret, that she was too emotional to read herself.

In the letter, Margaret Bishop described the playful friendship she and her husband had developed in their four years together, including a nighttime ritual in which she would pinch him and say, "Don't let the bed bugs bite."

Bishop, 28, a 1999 graduate of Patchogue-Medford High School, was killed last month when a helicopter he was aboard crashed in western Afghanistan. Bishop was a Green Beret assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces and was part of an anti-narcotics mission when his HM-47 helicopter crashed in Badghis Province. At the time of his death, he was on his second deployment; his first was in Iraq from August 2004, to August 2005.

At the funeral service, Matt Catapano, who grew up next door to Bishop in Medford, made many members of Bishop's family laugh when he alluded to stories they all knew, but which he said might not be appropriate for a church service.

"The snowman story," Catapano recalled. "The two trampolines and the bowling balls. The trampolines and the couches. The Colorado story."

At the funeral, family and friends grasped for words to explain their affection for Bishop and how much they will miss him. They said Bishop had a carefree attitude and a love of his military service.

"For me, it is a terrible thing," Catapano said of Bishop's death. "But Keith's life was not about terrible. It was about happiness."

Bishop's father, Robert Bishop, of Carlisle, Pa., recalled a son who pushed himself to beat his father in living-room wrestling matches, who picked the Army over the other branches of the service because his grandfather had been a soldier, and who occasionally probed the boundaries of parental authority.

"You couldn't stay mad at Keith; he was that kind of kid," Robert Bishop said, before adding, "We're all missing Keith."

Army Chaplain Tim Miracle, who presided over the funeral, choked back tears as he read Margaret Bishop's letter, which she could not bring herself to read aloud.

At Calverton National Cemetery, Bishop was honored with a flyover of two Blackhawk helicopters from the New York Army National Guard's 3rd Battalion, 142nd Assault Helicopter Battalion, which swept overhead as the sounds of "Taps" faded.

At the grave site, an 11-year-old nephew wore a green beret just as his uncle had. And Margaret Bishop caressed the American flag on her husband's coffin, then placed it in its tri-cornered display case.

One of the uniformed men who came to the cemetery - Master Sgt. Tony Alfaro, of Oakland, Calif. - served as Bishop's superior in the eight months before their July deployment to Afghanistan. He struggled to speak about his friend.

"He was a smart, witty, sharp, no-nonsense kind of guy - very competent, very professional," Alfaro said.

In the letter Margaret Bishop was too emotional to read, she finished it this way: "Keith, I love you more than words could ever describe and dream of the day we will be together again. Until then, sweet dreams, my love, don't let the bed bugs bite."

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