Sam Bird was born in Kansas in 1940, and graduated from the Citadel. He went on active duty with the Army as the commander of an honor guard for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Sam Bird was in charge of the military pallbearers who carried President John F. Kennedy's casket. When you see videos of President Kennedy's funeral, he is the tall, young, ramrod straight first lieutenant barking orders to the casket bearers.
Capt. Sam Bird went to Vietnam and was put in charge of a company of soldiers at a mountain outpost engaging the enemy. He was loved by his troops. On the last day of his tour in Vietnam, January 27, 1967, on his 27th birthday, he was leading a helicopter assault on the enemy when sniper fire ripped through his body and tore away part of his brain.
He was evacuated to the 106th Army General Hospital, Yokohama, Japan, for surgery, and I was one of the corpsmen who took care of him in the Recovery Room. Later he was transferred to a hospital ward, where another corpsman, a friend of mine, was assigned his care. My friend told me that Capt. Bird almost died once, but they were able to revive him, and he was transferred to the States.
The following year, 1968, the 106th received a letter from Capt. Bird, in which in childlike prose he thanked us for taking such good care of him. We were all touched and happy that he survived, but surprised that he was able to write.
Capt. Sam Bird was able to marry, but lived in severe pain for the rest of his life--he died in 1984.
You know, you hear people say a person is a hero, and you wonder if it is really true. You wonder if there is really such a thing as a hero. Then a nurse tells you the story of a young Army officer, and the doctor tells you the same story, but when you see this twisted body lying in a hospital bed you wonder if the stories are true. Then, you get to know the patient; and notice that when you go over to his bed, he would raise up and try to help you do your job. Yes, even in severe pain and with diminished mental capacities he instinctively tried to make your life easier.
Capt. Sam Bird was an American hero.