MEMORIAL DAY: Michael Bird came from ‘long line of warriors’

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

LLANO — Michael DeVerne Bird epitomized the role of “big brother.” As the oldest of six, Bird had a lot of eyes on him.

“He loved fast cars and beautiful girls, but not always in that order,” said his brother Kelly Bird, who fell third in line as the children went. “But he came from a long line of warriors.”

Their father, U.S. Air Force Major Billie S. Bird, made a career of the military with most of it as part of the Strategic Air Command. He served during the Korean War as well as making four tours in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. And their grandfather, Master Sgt. Bernie Malone, served in World War II and Korea.

“As far as I went back, I think almost all the men in my family served in the military,” Kelly said.

So it made sense that, despite the Vietnam War raging, Michael would join up.

With the family bouncing around quite a bit because of their dad’s position in the Strategic Air Command, Billie and Ann Bird decided the best thing for their eldest child, who was in high school during the mid-1960s, was to send him to Texas to live with his grandparents, Bernie and Leslie Malone. The couple were living in San Antonio when Michael first arrived but then settled in Llano County around Sunrise Beach, where the teenager finished his high school education.

Michael Bird was assigned as an infantryman to D Company of the 1st Battalion, 8th Calvary of the 1st Cavalry Division.
Michael Bird was assigned as an infantryman to D Company of the 1st Battalion, 8th Calvary of the 1st Cavalry Division.

While he had a penchant for fast cars and beautiful girls, Michael also had an artist’s eye and a giving heart.

“He was a gifted artist,” Kelly remembered. “I remember he was this fantastic artist, but he was also the biggest gearhead. Those don’t sound like two things that go together, but for him, they did.”

Michael wasn’t just about girls, cars and art. He continually looked for ways to help out.

“He spent a lot of time volunteering,” Kelly said.

One of Michael’s favorite places to volunteer was at the Abilene State School, which provided both in-house and out-patient services for mentally challenged Texas residents.

“I don’t know why he volunteered for them or what got him started in it. I just know it was something he really loved doing,” Kelly said. “He just cared.”

The combination of his warrior bloodline and caring for his country probably helped lead him to the U.S. Army after high school during the height of the Vietnam War.

Michael was assigned as an infantryman to D Company of the 1st Battalion, 8th Calvary of the 1st Cavalry Division. His tour in Vietnam started July 31, 1966.

In March 1967, Michael and his company found themselves in the Binh Dinh region of South Vietnam. While on patrol March 20, 1967, enemy soldiers ambushed his platoon, and he was shot. By the time medics got to him, it was too late.

“They lost eight men that day,” Kelly said.

The news hit the Bird family hard.

“He was our big brother,” Kelly said.

Their father was deployed to the Vietnam theater when his oldest son died.

Michael was laid to rest in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio. When his father passed away some years later, he was also laid to rest there not far from his son.

Along with the oldest, three other Bird siblings served in uniform, including the next oldest, Douglas, who actually served in the very same company and unit as Michael did.

Kelly served in the Army’s 67th Armor Regiment of the 2nd Armored Division. Both brothers served during the Vietnam era but didn’t serve in the war itself.

One of their sisters, Patricia Bird, served in the U.S. Coast Guard.

Now, 48 years later, the Birds still think about their brother. A few years ago, Kelly attended a Memorial Day service in Llano during which officials honored Cpl. Michael Bird.

Kelly hopes people understand that while Memorial Day is “a day off,” a lot of men and women gave their lives so the rest of us could enjoy so much. He even pointed out the connection between the Vietnam War and today’s conflicts.

“During the height of the Vietnam War, this country was really divided by it,” he said. “But now, the generation of Vietnam are the parents of those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. I like to think today’s service members are better received, but there are still a lot of people who don’t give a (darn).

“I just want people to remember that these were young men who gave up so much for the rest of the country,” Kelly added. “My brother came from a long line of warriors, and my family understands the loss. I just hope everybody else does.”

Michael Bird was 20 when he died.

daniel@thepicayune.com

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