|Birth: ||Nov. 4, 1918|
|Death: ||May 24, 1996|
Athlete and U.S. Navy World War II flying ace. Outstanding football, basketball and baseball player, graduate of 1938 class of Byrd High School in Shreveport and 1942 at LSU, where he set records in football and basketball and was chosen the school's best punter in 100 years. He was considered one of the best punters and passers in the Southeast Conference. Joining the Navy in World War II, he flew Hellcat fighters with VF-51 off the USS San Jacinto and according to contemporary and end-of-war reports downed 5-1/2 Japanese planes. He also took part in the sinking of a Japanese destroyer with other Hellcat fliers, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross for that feat. He also earned the Air Medal. He was one of the pilots who flew with future President George HW Bush and flew cover over Bush after Bush was shot down in the Pacific and had to be rescued by a submarine. After the war Bird was in the oil and energy supply and service business and iron works in Northwest Louisiana.
However, the American Fighter Aces Association only credits Bird with 1/2 credit for a July 25, 1944, downing of a Jake (float plane), shared with Lt. Bayard Franklin Griffin; an Oct. 10, 1944, Judy, full credit; an Oct. 15, 1944, Oscar, shared with Griffin, Lt. Howard Isherwood, Jr and Ens. Nathaniel James Adams, for 1/4 credit; an Oct. 15, 1944, Frances (shared with Griffin, Isherwood, Adams, Lt (jg) Daniel Glenn Stewart and Ens. William Clay Hartung, for 0.166 credits); an Oct. 24, 1944, Jake, shared with Griffin for 1/2 credit; and a Nov. 11, 1944, Jill, shared with Griffin, for 1/2 credit. The total there is 2.916 credits. The discrepancy between published accounts presumably based on Navy releases and records remains unresolved. However, the legacy of a brave and accomplished flier remains, and so will he here.
Sunday, May 26, 1996 Shreveport Times
LSU football legend, WW II hero Leo Bird dies at 77
By KENT HEITHOLT
Leo Bird once helped save a future president of the United States. He also helped a football teammate at LSU earn All-America honors and go on to professional football stardom.
Those stories resurfaced after Bird, a World War II hero and former LSU football player, died Friday in Highland Hospital at age 77.
Bird earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal while a member of the Hellcat squadron on the aircraft carrier USS San Jacinto. He shot down 51/2 enemy planes and assisted in the sinking of a destroyer in the Pacific Theater.
After one bombing run, Bird and fellow pilots broke away to protect a fallen plane until the USS Finback, a submarine, could fish a young Navy pilot named George Bush out of the sea. In a book on his World War II years (George Bush: World War II Years), Bush acknowledges Bird's role in the rescue.
"We meet with the group they call AG51, and we got to talk to President Bush at Houston two years ago," said Lyria Bird, Leo's wife of 39 years. "I remember asking him about that part of the book, but I couldn't remember the name of it. Funny thing was, President Bush couldn't remember the name of it either."
From 1939-41, Bird, a former Byrd High standout, was the starting halfback for the LSU Tigers. He led the Tigers in passing for three seasons. He threw for 1,178 yards and 12 touchdowns. He still holds two school punting records and had the best season punting average (43.2 yards), a record that stood for 50 years until 1989.
"He was a heck of an athlete. He was what was called a triple-threat," said former LSU sports information director Paul Manasseh, who attended grade school and high school with Bird. "I thought a lot of him. I was looking forward to seeing him at the Byrd reunion in a couple of weeks."
Bird's best season came as a sophomore in 1939 when he helped starting end Ken Kavanaugh earn All-America honors and the first Southeastern Conference Player of the Year award. Bird threw a record three touchdown passes to Kavanaugh against Holy Cross. LSU also made history that day by becoming the first Southern collegiate team to fly to a game.
A Mooringsport native, Bird and his wife were among the Shreveport residents who were uprooted by the tornado that ripped through the Stratmore area in January. The Birds' home required complete rebuilding.
"I just moved back in when Leo went into the hospital," Lyria Bird said. "He'll never be in it."
Anne Lyria Welch Bird (1924 - 2009)*
Calvary Episcopal Church Cemetery
Created by: John Andrew Prime
Record added: Jul 19, 2009
Find A Grave Memorial# 39625914
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