Born in North Carolina in 1917, Byrd's mother was killed in the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 and was raised by his aunt and uncle in Southern West Virginia. Byrd also joined up with the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940s, where he held the title of Kleagle and Exalted Cyclops.
I shall never fight in the armed forces with a Negro by my side… Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.I couldn't help but notice that there was no mention of Byrd's military service in his biographies or obituaries. Kind of strange for somebody who was in his early 20s when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Perhaps he didn't like the 'race-mixing' that was going on in the military with the Tuskeegee Airmen, the all Japanese-American 442nd Regiment or the Navajo code-talkers.
—Byrd in Letter to pro-segregationist Mississippi Sen. Theo Bilbo in 1944
Byrd was also an opponent of the War in Iraq, leading to this hugely ironic quote from the [very] senior Senator in 2004:
This huge spending bill—$87 billion—has been rushed through this chamber in just one month. There were just three open hearings by the Senate Appropriations Committee on $87 billion—$87 for every minute since Jesus Christ was born—$87 billion without a single outside witness called to challenge the administration's lineCuriously, the selectively fiscally conservative Senator saw absolutely no problem with throwing 10 times as much money down a hole when he voted to pass President Obama's stimulus bill five years later. I also get the feeling that if he had his way, the Military would be deployed elsewhere with racially segregated units.
Byrd's death and the vacant Senate seat brings up the possibility of another special election in an already hotly contested election year. According to the West Virginia Secretary of State:
If the vacancy occurs less than two years and six months before the end of the term, the Governor appoints someone to fill the unexpired term and there is no election. If the vacancy occurs two years and six months or more before the end of the term, the Governor appoints someone to serve until the unexpired term is filled at the conclusion of the next candidate filing period, Primary Election, General Election and certification. The winner of that General Election fills the balance of the unexpired term. The election for the full term will be held as scheduled regardless of the date of the vacancy.Since the vacancy occurred with more than two and a half years to go in Byrd's term, that means that Gov. Joe Manchin will be required to call for a special election. In the meantime, Manchin will name a replacement to serve in the vacant seat between now and the special election.
These provisions are set out in West Virginia Code §3-10-3.