`It was my time,' says woman elected to lead Legion post

1st female commander for Towson group served in military for 23 years

July 08, 2002|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

After serving in the military for more than 23 years and being involved with American Legion activities for another 18, Linda Bishop was the unanimous, unopposed choice to lead Towson's American Legion Post 22. She is the first woman to do so in the post's 71-year history.

The members present at last month's election - all men - gave Bishop a standing ovation when she was chosen.

"I just felt like it was my time," said Bishop, 53. "I felt like I had been there long enough, I could do a good job."

Women hold some leadership posts in the organization, said Joe March, a spokesman for the American Legion's national headquarters. "More and more we are seeing that happen," he said. A few other female commanders have served in Maryland and throughout the county, he said, but most Legion members and leaders at the nearly 15,000 posts nationwide are men.

As commander, Bishop will oversee post activities for the year. They include putting flags in local cemeteries for Memorial Day, organizing the annual Boys State leadership conference, providing banners to families with members in the military, and holding events for local veterans.

Bishop also plans to hold a recruitment drive this year. To qualify for membership, veterans must have served during wartime. Current members of the military are eligible under the Persian Gulf war designation, which Congress never ended.

Bishop also will be keeping an eye out for women eligible to join. "I am sure we have a number of women veterans," she said. "I would sure like to hear from them."

Bishop, who grew up in Parkville playing army with the neighborhood boys, said she was inspired to join the Air Force when she saw Jimmy Stewart play a pilot in a movie. When she joined the military in January 1966 as an 18-year-old Teletype operator, she was in the "Women in the Air Force" branch. She and several female friends wanted to go into combat in Vietnam but were not allowed.

After a year and a half, she got married, and had to leave the service.

In 1974, Bishop joined the Air National Guard, where she managed a high-frequency radio station and led the Morse code program for the East Coast. After 11 years, she transferred to the Army National Guard, where she started a preventive medicine program that taught soldiers how to avoid health hazards in the field.

Bishop, who retired from the military six years ago and changed to a career as an executive assistant, got involved with the Towson post "for the camaraderie, being with people that have had the same experiences." The community service aspect also attracted her: "I like to get involved," she said.

When she joined the post, she served as a bingo caller for the post's twice-weekly games. Later, she twice served as post chaplain, arranging memorial services for deceased post members and for holidays. Previous post commander Pat O'Connor remembers that in addition to being very organized, "she wrote her own prayers. ... [They were] very, very good, very moving."

Last week, Bishop, who occasionally sings with Mickey Light's "Sounds of Sinatra" show, appeared in Towson's annual Fourth of July parade as the Legion post's top officer.

Bishop also is serving a second year as a volunteer officer for the American Legion Baltimore County Council.

"The first time I met Linda, I was very impressed with her knack with people," said departing county commander, Larry Chambers of Lutherville. "She is willing to help anybody out at any time."

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