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Burns M Byram II


After WW II, Burns completed medical school and became a doctor. He established his medical practice in Marengo, Iowa. He continued his interest in aviation, became a licensed pilot, and bought a P-51. He named his plane 'Tangerine. '

MARENGO, IA --- The sky above the trees in the square hasn't been ripped apart for more than a year now and it is healed perfectly.

There is no scar to show where Burns Byram so often drew his scalpel of thunderous sound through it, making the incision with his "Tangerine," the blade-like airplane from an old war.

"We'd all look up and shout, 'There's Doc! There's Doc!' " said Larry Kruse, an auctioneer in a black cowboy hat. "He just seemed to part these trees."

They'd come running out from Shaull's Variety, the Old Style Tavern, Peterson Drug Store, Blinkinsop Shoes and the other old buildings around the square to watch Doc come home from his other life far beyond this small Iowa County town.


Burns Byram, physician, surgeon and knightly presence here for 25 years, always came home in a style that led hardware merchant Dick Brown to fondly remember him as ... "well, kind of swashbuckling."

Byram came home flying his P-51 Mustang, the hot, unforgiving fighter plane that looks more like an act of war than any other aerial weapon built by the United States during World War II.

He would come diving down on the town square, boom across the treetops at 300 miles an hour and roll up and away, the plane's 2,000-horsepower engine announcing that "The Doctor is in."

Then he might be in his downtown office until 10 o'clock at night, or at the hospital even later or he might suddently turn up at a patient's door, making an unexpected house call.

He might be wearing "a shirt with ducks all over it and Wellington boots and not look like a doctor at all," said Dave Fry, the dentist. "But he was a good one, even a great one."

"He saved my wife's life," said George Peterson in the drugstore, looking as though he might come close to tears when he talked about Doc Byram.

"He had an inner obligation toward humanity that drove him along," said Brown. "A sacrificing man. I guess that's what killed him."


Byram was killed a year ago Monday while flying a P-51 --- not his own --- out of Guatemala for a friend. The plane crashed in Mexico. He was 54.

The feeling around the square is that Doc stayed too long with the plane because he wanted to save it for his friend and because he couldn't bear to lose a craft that was virtually a symbol of life to him.

"He was a great pilot. He had more hours in a P-51 than any man in the world," said Duane Potts, the Buick dealer, for whom nothing is the same since Byram was killed.

Byram was a bombadier-navigator during World War II. He flew on 25 missions over Europe but never as a pilot.

"And he told me he got sick every time he went up in those bombers," said his son, "Butch" Byram, helping around the square where a rebuilt fountain was dedicated to his father's memory Friday afternoon.

It might be that Byram always got sick in the bombers because he was, as Potts described him, "a super-softie who never wanted to hurt anyone."

Byram probably hated dropping bombs on people. Perhaps the keen, dangerous silhouettes of those escorting P-51s caught his mind with the promise of single-handed risk.

"He was his own man," said Brown. "He knew how to live. But he'd risk his life. He'd risk it."


Byram bought a P-51 after his medical practice was established in Marengo. The range and speed of the plane gave him a life beyond the small town that some people envied and made other uneasy.

Marengo got a glimpse of that world when several remarkably glamorous strangers from many parts of the world appeared at his funeral.

Byram was divorced. He had two children, a daughter and his son Butch, who sat in the square watching workmen trying to make the rebuilt fountain squirt a respectable jet of water in time for the dedication ceremony.

"I miss him," said Butch. "Every time I hear an airplane come over here I look up and think maybe he's coming home."

The fountain was built in 1898, eventually stopped working, then was filled in with dirt and planted in flowers.

Now it has been rebuilt, mostly with funds left over when the local Optimist Club "went defunct," as Brad Hobbs described the passing of the organization.

Bob Gerard was down in a hole beside the fountain, working among pipes and connections. Max Herrmann was laying in the wiring for the colored lights that were to shine up through the water.

The bronze name plate that once was on the door of Doc Byram's office already had been screwed down to the rim of the fountain.

Gerard and Herrmann had been working for 10 hours.


"Well, I remember years ago when my little sister got hit with a baseball bat and had to be sewed up," said Gerard. "When Doc got finished with her he said, 'I think you need a puppy.' He went out and bought her a little black puppy. We had it for years. We always called it Doc."

Gerard threw a switch and the fountain barely bubbled up. People had to stand on the rim of the fountain to see the water spraying up out of a bowl on top.

So Wes Heller brought his compressed air tank over from the gas station and blew out the pipe. Then it worked. Gerard went home to change his shirt and the people began to gather in the square.

The American Legion brought the colors forward. There was a blessing. A few people said a very few words. There wasn't much that needed to be said. Everyone in the square knew about Doc.

"He couldn't stand much ceremony," said Beth Brown. "This is about as long as he would have wanted it."

Butch Byram came forward to throw the switch that turned on the fountain. The colored lights came on in the basin and the water rose about four feet in a gently spray.

The people turned away to a bake sale and an auction being held in the square after the ceremony.

Bob Gerard stood watching the fountain. The soft spray of water seemed curiously formal as a memorial to a man whose spirit made the town something more than it is now.

"You know," said Gerard. "Every time I hear an airplane I still look up to see if it's Doc."

And he did look up, up through the trees that once seemed to part when Doc came roaring home, opening the sky behind him.

But there was no mark up there, no sign that Doc had ever come or gone. That is the work now of the small fountain.



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Event Location Date
Born Iowa, USA 1922
Lived in Toledo, IA, USA 1942
Enlisted Des Moines, IA, USA 13 December 1942
Died Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chis., Mexico 5 June 1978

Crashed while flying Ex USAF P-51D-30-NA serial number 44-74430 from central America to the U.S.

Buried Lucas County, IA, USA 10 June 1978

Spring Hill Pioneer Cemetery
Lucas County
Iowa, USA


Date Contributor Update
13 June 2015 00:23:03 466thHistorian Changes to biography, events, person associations, place associations and aircraft associations

466th BG Historian
Lucas Countyan (IA) Blogspot

Date Contributor Update
27 September 2014 18:04:51 AAM AAM ingest

Document / Drawn from the records of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, Savannah, Georgia