Thomas A. Bird, Jr.

My family lived in Mt. Lebanon. My parents got married in February of 1942 shortly before my dad volunteered for WWII. My mother became pregnant almost immediately. My father was already at Camp Custer up in Michigan in November of 1942. A Jeep pulled up and he was told that he was going back to Pittsburgh on a week furlough to be with his wife for the birth of their child. My mother wrote President Roosevelt to send her husband home before he went overseas. My brother Tom was born.

My father came back from the war, he and my mom had 11 more kids, and owned and operated service stations. My brother, in his teen years, would work at my dad’s station and when he got paid he would hitchhike to the Allegheny County Airport and take flying lessons. He loved to fly, and in his senior year he joined the Marines. Tom went through school in the Marines and was accepted into the Naval Aviation Training in Pensacola, Fl.

In 1965 Tom was stationed in Okinawa, Japan. He had a desk job assigning flight teams to be sent overseas to Vietnam. He volunteered to go back to his old outfit HMM 363, and asked to be sent to Vietnam. Tom shipped out for Vietnam in September 1965. The Marines needed helicopter pilots, and that’s what he did. He and his crew would insert troops in country, and if there were wounded they would load them in the helo and they would fly them back to the hospital tents.

One mission, they had a Army Huey escorting them when they came under fire. The Huey was hit, and the chopper crashed. Tom landed his chopper, went over to the Huey, lifted a large radio off the pilot, picked him up and flew him to the hospital. He was awarded a medal for that act of heroism.

On March 21, 1966 in support of Operation Texas, Tom and his crew were inserting troops into a hot landing zone when their UH 34 was hit by 50mm Maxine gun fire. The chopper lurched up and came in contact with the ground tail first. It immediately burst into flames. Tom, his crew, and a cabin full of Marines were killed in action. In May of 1967, a park in Mt. Lebanon, Bird Park, was dedicated in his name as the first resident to be killed in Vietnam and also dedicated to all Mt. Lebanon residents to serve in that war.

John Bird
Mt. Lebanon, PA