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Counting candles, medals

On birthday, Navy veteran honored for his 30-year career

Posted: June 24, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 24, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Master Chief Stuart Bird, a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Navy Seabees, left, shakes hands with U.S. Navy Cmdr. Thomas Sutton. Bird’s son Shannon Bird, center, and daughter Shauna Bird present him with his medals at a ceremony held at Bird’s brother’s home in Saugus on Saturday.

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The usual birthday bash just wasn’t enough to celebrate the 71st birthday of Stuart Bird.

But when the Veterans of Foreign Wars color guard filed into the Saugus backyard where the revelries were being held Saturday afternoon, and the salutes rose and fell, shock set in on the face of the retired Navy master chief.

A Navy commander and the color guard presented the 30-year veteran with a lifetime of medals during a surprise ceremony at Bird’s brother’s home.

Bird’s brother has been throwing him a birthday party every year since Bird was diagnosed with cancer in 2009. This year, his family surprised him with a presentation of more than 15 medals that he earned throughout his career but never got a chance to collect.

Bird’s wife of 46 years and his seven children — including four adopted special-needs children — engulfed him in laughter and tears after the ceremony.

The presentation commemorated Bird’s three tours in Vietnam and one tour in Desert Storm. Navy Cmdr. Thomas Sutton praised Bird’s service as a construction mechanic for the Seabees, a special Navy unit of tradesmen that rebuilt infrastructure in hostile areas.

Before his retirement, Bird reached the highest enlisted rank in the Navy, a master chief.

“These are the people that we look to for mentoring and guidance,” said Sutton, of Bird. “He optimizes the Navy’s core values of honor, courage and commitment.”

Two of Stuart Bird’s children, Shannon and Shauna Bird, presented the shadow box of awards, including the Navy’s National Defense medal and a Seabee medallion.

Shauna Bird and other family members had requested to receive the medals for more than two years.

“He would do anything for anyone. I adore him,” said Shauna Bird. “He’s given to his family and his country.”

Shannon Bird recalled childhood visits to work with his father, which eventually inspired him to work at Blue Cross Laboratories, as his dad did after he joined the Navy Reserve.

“He’s my best friend, my mentor. I learned everything I did from him,” said Shannon Bird.

As well as serving his country and his family, Stuart Bird served his community as a volunteer for the Special Olympics, coaching and building equipment alongside his four children who were athletes in the special-needs youth program.

Bird was overwhelmed with Saturday’s festivities and honors.

“This is unbelievable for me,” he said. “It’s been one heck of a week.”

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