By: John Cuddy – Sept. 2022
Groveland’s Steve Bird was conceived by his parents in 1946 at the US Military Academy in West Point, New York. His dad was a US Army Soldier, serving our Nation as an artillery instructor at West Point, teaching future US Army Officers. Steve grew up in Haverhill, Massachusetts, and was a member of Haverhill High’s Class of 1965.
After high school, he attended Northern Essex Community College. Drafted by the US Army in November of 1967, he was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey for Basic Training, then to Fort Sam Houston, Texas for advanced training as an Army Medic. After completing training, Steve was granted nineteen days leave and sent to Vietnam.
Assigned to the 1st Air Cavalry Division, in Headquarters Company of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Medical Platoon. Arriving in Vietnam in April of 1968, he was moved from the Medic Platoon to an Infantry unit two weeks later in May, replacing another Medic, a man named Dempsey Parrot, who was killed in action, just a few days before he was scheduled to meet his wife in Hawaii for R&R. (Rest and Relaxation Leave).
The Medic he replaced was respected and admired by the platoon, the soldiers, also noted that “Parrot” was replaced by “Bird” with a sense of irony unique among combat troops.
The 1st Air Cavalry could move the entire division from one area of operations to another, in twenty-four hours or less. During periods on intense combat, the division could be moved to engage the enemy by Army Leadership faster than other units of division size. This mobility kept the unit constantly in contact with the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army, resulting in 5,621 members of the division being killed in action during Vietnam. Ten percent of the Americans on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC, served in the 1st Air Cavalry.
General Vo Nguyen Giap was the leader of the North Vietnam military during both the American and French conflicts, he feared the combat readiness and mobility of the 1st Air Cavalry. He noted in his writings the enormous casualties inflicted on his troops by the unit. Many military experts assert that the Division killed 30-40,000 North Vietnamese Troops during the Tet Offensive and follow up operations in I Corp in the Spring and Summer of 1968.
Steve shared his story with me over the phone. The first time he was wounded was in a situation where the movements of the NVA were masked by heavy rain. He was called up to assist a five-man machine gun team that were all wounded, and he was wounded while advancing to their position. A forward observer for Artillery assisted him to cover.
At the same time, the North Vietnamese, lobbed a grenade into the machine gun position, killing all five men inside. Despite the heroic efforts of helicopter pilot, twenty-one-year-old Chief Warrant Officer Art Jacobs and his crew, Medevac was impossible.
Intense enemy ground fire prevented three attempts at extraction. On the third attempt, they were shot down and crashed in the jungle. Steve’s company sized unit had to walk out of the area, while under fire. They carried the wounded and fourteen killed in action with them, taking two and a half days to link up with another unit of the 1st Cavalry sent out to assist them. During this movement, the unit was under intense enemy attack. The Company was short one Medic. Specialist Bird was the only wounded Soldier that was able to walk and continued rendering aid to the wounded as they moved.
On the second day of the march, while linking up with the additional Company sent to support them, Specialist Bird was wounded again by enemy RPG fire. Finally, late in the day on July 26, 1968, another Medevac Helicopter was able to extract Steve and other wounded Soldiers. After surgery at the 18th Surgical Hospital in Quang Tri, Steve had a brief visit with Chief Warrant Officer Jacobs who was awaiting transport to Camp Zama, Japan for additional surgery on the wounds he received for his actions on July 24, 1968.
Helicopter pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Art Jacobs was awarded the Silver Star, Purple Heart, and Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions that day. Steve was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with V Device for valor in combat. To this day, Steve remains in awe of what he watched the Airmobile Infantry Soldiers, he had the honor of serving with, and what the Soldiers accomplished daily. His Company maintains a website at www.eagerarms.com. It is an excellent site for anyone wanting to know what it was really like to be an Infantry Soldier in Vietnam.
During his year in Vietnam, he earned a coveted “Combat Medical Badge,” an Air Medal, two Bronze Stars and Two Purple Hearts, (despite being wounded three times), along with several other decorations. After his tour in Vietnam ended, Steve finished his two years in the US Army at Fort Bless, Texas. Returning to the Merrimack Valley, he earned his bachelor and master’s degree from Suffolk University on the GI Bill, while working at Western Electric in North Andover, Massachusetts and raising a family at the same time. He is married to Marianne, they have a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren, two boys and a girl. Working mostly at Western Electric, he also supported his family with stints at Vernon Plastics, Pynn Companies, and even working as a substitute teacher after retiring from Weir Valves and Controls in 2010. Steve Bird is truly a “Hero in Our Midst.”
The Dracut American Legion asks all World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War Veterans, to call (603) 518-5368 and sign up for an Honor Flight to the Memorials in Washington DC! Veterans of all eras are asked to go the American Legion’s Web site www.legion.org, and join the American Legion, our mission is working with Congress, Veterans, and the Community, preserving our Veteran’s Benefits for future generations.
John Cuddy served in the US Navy’s Construction Battalions (Seabees) after retiring from the US Navy; he earned a bachelor’s in history and a master’s in economics from the University of Massachusetts on the Lowell Campus. He has been employed in Logistics at FedEx for the last 25 years. If you know a World War II, Korean War, or Vietnam War Veteran who would like their story told, please email him at John.Cuddy@Yahoo.com◊