Suffolk native and brigadier general dies

Published 9:21 pm Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Suffolk native who died last week was thought to be the first black brigadier general in the U.S. Army from Suffolk.

Brig. Gen. Melvin L. Byrd Sr. passed away Thursday. Some members of his family believe he was the first black person from Suffolk to attain the brigadier general rank, the fourth-highest of the Army’s commissioned officers.

Melvin Byrd

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he was, but he never spoke too much about it,” said his wife, Diane Byrd.

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Byrd, who was retired, was commissioned in 1959. He spent more than 32 years serving in various assignments, including Iran, Korea, Germany and two tours in Vietnam. He headed up a number of commands throughout his career, including his final assignment at the U.S. Army Communications and Electronics Command.

He earned a number of honors, including the Distinguished Service Medal, the Bronze Star with two Oak Leaf Clusters and the Meritorious Service Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters.

Diane Byrd said her husband was in ROTC when he was in college.

“He loved the Army,” Byrd said. “It was a family.”

But that doesn’t mean Byrd didn’t love his actual family, as well. The couple had three girls in three years, and then finally had a son.

“He loved them all,” Byrd said. “He always wanted to plan summer vacation for all of us. He took us to Disney World and he was just like a kid getting on all the roller coasters.”

Even though he was deployed a lot during the children’s younger years, he still encouraged them to do their best. Now, all four children have their Master of Business Administration degree, and one also has a doctorate.

“His desire for them to achieve was really accomplished,” Byrd said.

Byrd was proud of his children’s achievements, but rarely showed it, his wife said.

“He never said too much,” she said. “He’d just cut out the articles and keep them.”

After his father died when Byrd was 10, he took on the role of father in that family. He worked hard to save for college.

“He wanted him to have the same work ethic, so he always impressed upon them to do better,” Byrd said.

Byrd also enjoyed reading the newspaper, listening to the news on television and keeping up with politics and political debates.

Funeral services will be held today at 3 p.m. at the Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek. Burial arrangements are pending at Arlington National Cemetery.