tampabay.com

Home from war, he dies in wreck

The fearless boy turned Army paratrooper will be buried today.

By CHANDRA BROADWATER
Published October 20, 2006


BROOKSVILLE - Carol Thacker always knew she would outlive her son.

He was a daredevil even as a young boy who went on to join the Army. He spent six months as a peacekeeper in Kosovo and survived two tours as a paratrooper in Iraq.

But, on Sunday, Thacker's premonition came true.

Daniel L. Bishop, 28, died in a car wreck in Pasco County. He will be buried today.

"He's been all over the place in wars," Thacker said from her home in Weeki Wachee, "and this is how he dies."

Bishop lost control of his truck on State Road 54 after playing a football game about 8:30 p.m. A friend, 25-year-old Brian Hernandez, also died in the wreck. Both were thrown from Bishop's Ford F-150 after he lost control rounding a turn.

Bishop was an adventurous kid, never afraid to take a chance.

Thacker remembers seeing him standing atop a 12-foot high dive when he was 5 years old, just three weeks after he had reconstructive surgery on his chest. He was born with a concave chest and needed surgery so his lungs and heart could expand with the rest of his body.

But that didn't matter to Bishop. He jumped.

In high school, he was captain of the football team, and played safety and wide receiver. Bishop was usually the one at the bottom of the pile, the player who always dived in with everything he had.

"He would go up against anybody," Thacker said.

Thacker wasn't surprised when her son became a paratrooper and member of the 82nd Airborne field artillery unit. He had dreams of pursuing a career in the Special Forces. The military was his life.

The 6-foot, 145-pound Ridgewood High School graduate joined the Army as soon as he could.

A natural born leader, Thacker said, her son always stepped forward when he needed to. That's why the military was such a good fit.

It wasn't long ago that Thacker told her son that she didn't want to see his funeral flag placed on her fireplace mantel next to her grandfather's and father's, both military men.

"He loved being a solider," Thacker said. "He was prepared for danger and knew what could happen."

After basic training in Oklahoma, Bishop was assigned to the Screaming Eagles 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky. As part of the aerial assault team, he rappelled out of helicopters and eventually went to Kosovo.

But that wasn't enough. He re-enlisted and went off to paratrooper training. Stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., with the 82nd Airborne Division, he was first deployed to Iraq in 2002.

He patrolled downtown Baghdad and the airport. He came home in 2003 and then returned for another year in 2004.

Thacker said her son always made sure to talk to her about the good things he did in Iraq. He helped build a school. He told her the people were grateful for the U.S. presence.

"He didn't say so much the second time he went," she said. "He didn't want me to worry."

Bishop had returned to Florida about six weeks ago, after being discharged. The strain of parachuting was too much for his body, especially his chest.

He stayed with his mom and stepfather, Terry Thacker, for about three weeks in Weeki Wachee while he searched for a job. He toyed with the idea of going to college. In the meantime, he worked for Cablelink installing cable.

And every Sunday he played football with friends.

Bishop's older sister, Collyn Solo, 31, flew in from Utah with her two oldest children for the funeral. Growing up, she and Bishop were inseparable. They were together so much that Thacker said Solo practically raised him.

Her brother's Army adventures always made her nervous, so last year she made it a point to spend a week with him in North Carolina. The last time she saw him was at her wedding six months ago.

"As we got older, our roles reversed," Solo said. "I went through a nasty divorce, and he started taking care of me."

Thacker said her son never wasted a minute of his life. She admired him for that.

"Who would want to jump out of a perfectly safe moving plane?" she asked. "He did. And that's what he loved. He lived life to the fullest and on the edge."

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com or 352 848-1432.