My First Sergeant

A soldier saluting to the American flag

Pass It On is a new, bi-weekly peek inside the heart and mind of Francis Pass…


Click the play button to listen to Francis Pass tell this story.


Verlon R. Bishop was my First Sergeant.

I never did find out what the R stood for.

Everything about him was military, from his crewcut to his gig line. That’s the term for the alignment of the shirt seam, belt buckle, and trouser fly to form a straight line down the front of a soldier’s uniform. First Sergeant Bishop’s gig line was always straight as an arrow.

Now, he wasn’t my first First Sargeant. That would be Monty Montelongo.

A full-blooded Indian and medal of honor recipient.

Remind me to tell you how I once impressed First Sergeant Montelongo by making a makeshift firing pin retaining pin out of an ammo can and spring wire in the middle of a hostile jungle.

That’s a good story.

But this isn’t about First Sergeant Montelongo. This is about the man that replaced him. First Sergeant Verlon R. Bishop.

I never did learn what the R stood for.

First Sergeant Bishop once asked me about my ambitions. I told him I didn’t want to come back home to the states anything less than a Sergeant.

He grinned as I told him that I was ready to get out in the field with the other fellas.

He said, “Pass, we’ve got an I.G. inspection.”

I.G. stood for Inspector General. And that was a big deal.

First Sergeant Bishop said, “Pass, I’ll give you my R&R if you can get all of the weapons to pass the I.G.“

He also gave me special permission to fly into basecamp. That was a big deal, too.

Long story short, we passed the I.G. inspection… which was, no doubt, a feather in First Sergeant Bishop’s cap.

And I enjoyed three days R&R in Bangkok.

The day he pinned those brand new, beautiful black Buck Sergeant stripes on my lapel was one of the greatest days of my life. I’ll never forget him shaking my hand and calling me Sergeant Pass.

First Sergeant Bishop taught me what great leadership was. I learned the importance of being humble… and staying humble. And he gave me a front row seat at his leadership masterclass. He didn’t just bark orders. He was a true leader. He was always concerned about his troops… who he referred to as his “boys.”

Memorial Day is a sacred day when I remember our “boys” that we lost.

But this Memorial Day is a little different. Because this is the first Memorial Day without my First Sergeant.

First Sergeant Bishop died November 3, 2019 in Paragould, Arkansas.

I only just learned of his passing a few short weeks ago.

So, I dedicate this Memorial Day to my hero and mentor, First Sergeant Verlon R. Bishop.

Thank you, sir, for your service and your friendship.

I wish I had the opportunity to talk to you one last time.

So I could finally find out what the R stood for.

God bless. And thanks for readin’…

Francis Pass

P.S. – I hope you have a First Sergeant Bishop in your life, too.

Sergeant Bishop