Thursday, April 05, 2018

Images of Burns M. "Doc" Byram, 1924-1978

1st Lt. Burns M. Byram is standing third from left in this 1944 photograph taken at Attlebridge, Norfolk.

Now and then, an older post on this blog takes off --- and that happened this week to something I'd written in 2009 about Dr. Burns M. "Doc" Byram, a distant cousin killed during 1978 when the P-51 Mustang he was ferrying home from Guatemala to the Midwest crashed  near Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico.

Doc Byram, although born in Chariton and interred at Spring Hill Cemetery adjacent to what was the Byram family farm in English Township, was better known elsewhere --- at Marengo, where he practiced medicine from 1953 until death; and among fanciers of vintage aircraft, especially those devoted to the remaining P-51 Mustangs, long-range, single-engine fighter/fighter-bombers introduced in 1940 and used during both World War II and Korea.

Anyhow, that 2009 post --- "A Scalpel of Thunderous Sound" posted originally to feature a tribute to Doc written in 1979 by the late Robert Hullihan, a legendary Des Moines Register reporter and columnist --- generated about 2,000 "hits" and a couple of new comments this week. And when I started poking around to try to find out why (I didn't) some images of Byram turned up --- the reason for this new post.

Doc was born during 1924 in Lucas County to Burns M. Byram Sr. and Gladys (Scales) Byram, but left as a boy during 1931 when his dad, instrumental in organizing Lucas County Farm Bureau, accepted a post with what now is ISU Extension as Lyon County agent, stationed in Rock Rapids. From there, the family moved to Toledo in Tama County, where Doc graduated from high school.

He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps for service during World War II and when the photo at the top here was taken, was serving as first lieutenant/bombardier-navigator on Capt. Robert C. Moore's B-24 Liberator crew, stationed at Attlebridge, Norfolk, during the last year of the war. The photo is taken from the site, American Air Museum in Britain, and it was interesting to see that some of the information about Doc posted there was taken from that 2009 Lucas Countyan post.

After the war, Byram enrolled at the University of Iowa's College of Medicine and opened his practice in Marengo during 1953.

His interest in aviation continued after the war and he became widely known as a "flying physician," most often at the controls of his restored P-51 fighter christened "Tangerine."


This photo (credited to the Las Vegas News Bureau), posted to Facebook during 2017 by a gentleman named Gerald Asher, shows Doc in Las Vegas, Nevada, during 1962. The caption reads: "FLYING PHYSICIAN - An Iowa doctor brought a touch of the past to the 1962 Scientific Assembly of the American Academy of General Practice in Las Vegas when he landed at McCarran Field in a World War Two P-51 fighter plane. Dr. Burns M. Byram of Marengo, Iowa, studies maps on the wing of the historic fighter as he prepares for his return trip. The doctor, a member of the famed Flying Physicians Association, bought the 18-year-old plane two years ago and uses it for business trips." 

The plane, however, is not the Tangerine. It is the first of two P-51s that Doc owned and piloted. He crashed this one during a forced night landing near Des Moines in 1967, but walked away unscathed. He acquired Tangerine later that year and flew it until his death.

During the early summer of 1978, Byram agreed to ferry a another vintage P-51 to the Midwest from Guatemala, doing a favor for a friend. He took a commercial flight to Guatemala City, then flew north on June 4 at the controls of the vintage aircraft. The plane crashed on the morning of June 5 near Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico, and that was the end of that.


This image of the plane that perished along with its pilot was found here. The photo was taken some years before the crash, so the pilot is not Doc Byram.

Doc was survived by his two children, his parents --- then living in Scottsdale, Arizona --- and a sister. After funeral services in Marengo during June of 1978, his ashes were brought to Spring Hill Cemetery in Lucas County for burial. His father died during 1982 and his mother, in 1989, and their remains joined his at what now is designated a pioneer cemetery at the end of a lane off the old road from Newbern to Chariton.

Although the Byrams hadn't lived in Lucas County since 1931, they retained ownership of the family farm until late in their lives.

Doc's tombstone, as you might expect, bears the image of a P-51 Mustang.



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