Captain Bird

There are so many stories behind the names on "the wall."  Every soldier had his own story and every person who knew the soldier had his own story about that soldier.

I was lucky enough to have known and served under one of those names on this wall.

His name was Captain Samuel Bird.  If you were to walk across the Memorial Bridge, into Arlington Cemetery, and over the hill into Fort Meyer, you will find the 3rd Infantry, The Old Guard.  It is the unit that is responsible for all general officer retirements, burials in Arlington, Army shows, the Army Drill Team and the guards at the Tomb of the Unknowns.  In Charlie Company, The Old Guards is where our paths crossed.

Early in 1964, we in Charlie Company, were informed, we were getting a new officer.  His name was Samuel Bird. First Lieutenant Bird was coming to us from what was then called "Honor Guard Company as they were the company with the absolute sharpest soldiers and had the responsibility for the guarding of the Tomb of The Unknown Soldiers.  They were then, as now, the best America has to show for its

Lieutenant Bird was promoted to captain later in 1964 and took over as company commander.

Captain Bird turned out to be everything the ordinary soldier could want in a company commander.  He was fair, very tough, and was the ultimate model of leadership by example.  He always put the ordinary grunt's well being first.  If there was a tough job to do, he would be the first to get it started.  In the mess hall, where I was a cook, things took a new turn.  The men would always be served before the officers, quite a change from what we had been accustom to.  When we were in the field and staying presentable became a problem, he would always manage to look like he had just put on fresh fatigues.  He set the standard.

In 1967, I happened to read a newspaper article saying Captain Bird had suffered severe wounds in Viet Nam.  I watched the papers for weeks to see if there would be a follow-up story.  Weeks and months turned into years, until in 1988 I happened to pick up a Reader's Digest and the first story was titled "What I learned from Sam Bird."  It was written by an officer who served with him in Viet Nam.  It was through this story I learned of Captain Bird's fate.

Much of what the man had written confirmed what I already knew about Samuel Bird, his character and leadership abilities.  I also learned the horrendous wounds he had received in Viet Nam, had taken his life 17 years later.  He is buried in the Maple Grove Cemetery in Wichita, Kansas.

One other thing is different about this man.  Unlike almost every other name on "the wall", many people have seen him and just did not  know who he was.  He was the ramrod straight 1st Lieutenant who was in charge of the honor  guard that stood watch over President John Kennedy's casket from the beginning to the end of the funeral.  If you have seen the film clips and photos of President Kennedy, lying in state, in the rotunda of the Capital, you have seen Captain Bird.

For those of you who knew Samuel Bird, and would like to know more about his life and times, Please, try to find and buy a copy of the book, titled "So Proudly He Served", The Sam Bird Story, By his wife Annette Bird and Tim Prouty. The publisher was Okarche Books. It is out of print, but copies can be found.

James R. Hopcus
Des Moines, Iowa

James (Jim) Hopcus