b. 25/10/1888 Winchester, Virginia. d. 11/03/1957 Boston, Massachusetts.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 09/05/1926 North Pole.
Byrd was the son of Esther Bolling (Flood) and Richard Evelyn Byrd, Sr. He was a descendant of one of the First Families of Virginia. His ancestors include planter John Rolfe and his wife Pocahontas, William Byrd II of Westover Plantation, who established Richmond, and Robert "King" Carter, a colonial governor. He was the brother of Virginia Governor and U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd, a dominant figure in Virginia Democratic Party between the 1920s and 1960s; their father served as Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates for a time.
Byrd attended the Virginia Military Institute for two years and spent one year at the University of Virginia before financial circumstances inspired his transfer to the United States Naval Academy, where he was appointed Midshipman on May 28, 1908. While at the Academy, he severely injured his right ankle while performing a gymnastics routine. While he was able to graduate from the Academy, the injured ankle was the reason for his medical retirement from the Navy in 1916.
Although technically retired, Byrd was able to serve as a retired officer on active duty during the First World War. He took flying lessons and earned his pilot wings in August 1917. He developed a passion for flight, and pioneered many techniques for navigating airplanes over the open ocean including drift indicators and bubble sextants.
During the First World War, Byrd was assigned to the Office of Naval Operations and served as secretary and organizer of the Navy Department Commission on Training Camps and trained men in aviation at the aviation ground school in Pensacola, Florida. He then commanded naval air forces at Naval Air Station Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada from July 1918 until the armistice in November.
He was promoted to lieutenant on September 2, 1918 and to temporary lieutenant commander on September 21, 1918.
After the war, Byrd's expertise in aerial navigation resulted in his appointment to plan the flight path for the U.S. Navy's 1919 transatlantic crossing. Of the three flying boats that attempted it, only Albert Read's NC-4 aircraft completed the trip, becoming the first ever transatlantic flight.
He commanded the aviation unit of the arctic expedition to North Greenland led by Donald B. MacMillan from June to October 1925. This position gave Byrd an appreciation for the benefits aircraft could bring to Arctic exploration. As a result, he employed aircraft in all of his future expeditions.
On May 9, 1926, Byrd and pilot Floyd Bennett attempted a flight over the North Pole in a Fokker F.VIIa/3m Tri-motor monoplane named Josephine Ford, after the daughter of Ford Motor Company president Edsel Ford, who helped finance the expedition. The flight went from Spitsbergen (Svalbard) and back to its take-off airfield, lasting fifteen hours and fifty-seven minutes (including 13 minutes of circling the pole). Byrd and Bennett claimed to have reached the pole, a distance of 1,535 miles (1,335 nautical miles). This trip earned Byrd widespread acclaim, including being awarded the Medal of Honor and enabled him to secure funding for subsequent attempts to fly over the South Pole.
When he returned to the United States from the Arctic, Byrd became a national hero. Congress passed a special action on December 21, 1926 promoting him to the rank of commander and awarding him and Floyd Bennett the Medal of Honor. Byrd and Bennett were presented with Tiffany Cross versions of the Medal of Honor on March 5, 1927 at the White House by President Calvin Coolidge.
Byrd was then involved in three Antarctic expeditions prior to WWII. As a senior officer in the United States Navy, Byrd, performed national defense service during World War II (1941–45), mostly as the confidential Advisor to the Commander in Chief, United States Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Ernest J. King. From 1942 to 1945 he headed important missions to the Pacific, including surveys of remote islands for airfields. On one assignment he visited the fighting front in Europe.
On February 10, 1945 Byrd received the Order of Christopher Columbus from the government of Santo Domingo. Byrd was present at the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945.
In recognition of his service during World War II, Byrd was twice awarded the Legion of Merit.
Byrd died in his sleep on March 11, 1957 of a heart ailment at his Brimmer Street home in the Beacon Hill neighborhood in Boston. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
BURIAL LOCATION: ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA.
Section 2, Grave 4969-1