Lonnie T. Byars

Lonnie Truman Byars, 67, a long-time Alaskan communication systems pioneer who was instrumental in implementing analog, satellite, microwave, digital, and fiber optic systems in Alaska, died June 28, 2013, at Providence Hospital in Anchorage after a lengthy illness beginning with a debilitating stroke he suffered in 2003. 

Born in Birmingham, Ala., on Aug. 24, 1945, his mother, Esther Louise McCrary Byars, brought Lonnie to Alaska at age 4. Lonnie spent his childhood in Platinum, Anchorage, Anchor Point and Homer. He attended high school at Anchorage High and in Homer, graduating with a GED in 1963.

Lonnie joined the U.S Air Force in September 1963. It was soon discovered he had a high aptitude for mathematics and the sciences. The Air Force “fast-tracked” him though the University of Maryland, and he graduated with a degree in electrical engineering. Lonnie attended Cambridge while stationed in England. He was invited to join the MENSA Society.

Lonnie would joke that he served in the U.S. Air Force for seven years, seven months, 29 days, 10 hours and 14 minutes. While in the military, he worked on the Atlas and the Minute Man missiles, the land based intercontinental ballistic missiles system designed to deliver nuclear warheads during the Cold War. He was later sent to Vietnam where he served as an adviser and a forward air control reconnaissance pilot. He was injured on several occasions. In November of 1965 he was shot down at the battle of Ia Drang sustaining back injuries when dropping out of the jungle canopy from his plane. It took him two days under the cover of darkness to crawl back to South Vietnamese-held territory. He served two tours in Vietnam, including a return stint for the Tet Offensive. Lonnie was a well-decorated veteran including earning the rare missile badges.

In 1966, after his first Vietnam War tour, Lonnie was stationed in England at Dover. While there he earned his ICO (International Commercial License). 

It was also in England where he met his first wife, Avril, and his daughter Shari was born. He finished his military service while stationed at Homestead Air Force Base in Florida. 

Following his departure from the military, Lonnie came home to Alaska where he had an extensive career in telecommunications throughout the state. Lonnie immediately went to work for ITT on the White Alice Communication System which linked the DEW Line (Distance Early Warning System) with Elmendorf and Eielson Air Force Bases. 

In 1974, he went to work for Paige Communications on the Alaska Pipeline. Afterwards, Lonnie was employed by RCA. He worked for RCA/Alascom/PTI and AT&T, implementing direct distance dialing in Alaska and installing satellite earth stations in 122 Alaska communities, along with microwave and digital systems. Alascom transferred Lonnie to Seward in 1990 to help bring online and operate the first underseas/land fiber optic cable linking Alaska to the
Lower 48.

In 1998, Lonnie went to work for GCI installing the second Alaska fiber optic cable system (Alaska United). . 

Over the years, Lonnie worked on St. Paul Island, in King Salmon, Anchorage, and Seward. While living on St. Paul Island, his son Terrance was born. In 1987, he met Catherine Malcolm in Anchorage. They later married and had a son, Matthew Cole, born in 1991. 

Lonnie had many interests and acquired many skills during his life. Besides loving airplanes and flying and being an expert marksman, he enjoyed painting, reading, history, electronics, fishing, tinkering on cars and even macrame. He fondly remembered flying as an Iditarod pilot in 1984. Lonnie did a short stint as a commuter Bush pilot. He also was a charter member of the Bristol Bay Elks Lodge. His passion, however, was rooted in economics and finances. 

The peace of his final days was cut short by the sudden death of his beloved 21-year old son Matthew Cole Byars in October of 2012, followed in close proximity by the passing of his mother-in-law, Frances Malcolm.

Lonnie Truman Byars also is preceded in death by his mother, Esther Louise McCrary Byars Dalberg; his father, Lonnie Merrille Byars; and stepfather, Paul Dalberg.

Lonnie is survived by his wife, Catherine Malcolm-Byars of Seward; his son, Terrance Stepetin of Anchorage; daughter, Shari Giron of Fulton, Calif.; cousin, Roger McCrary of Florida; as well as brothers-in law Roger Malcolm and Troy Smith; sisters-in-law Karen Malcolm-Smith and Stacy Malcolm; niece, Jessie Malcolm; and nephews Dylan Fuhs and Luke Malcolm. 

“His wry sense of humor, encyclopedic memory and visionary view of the world will be sorely missed,” his family said. 

In accordance with Lonnie’s wishes, a private service was held. It was officiated by his friend and former coworker at Alascom, Deacon Felix McGuire. Lonnie’s remains have been interred at Ft. Richardson. For details or condolences, please contact Cathy at Box 1528, Seward, AK 99664 or visit Lonnie’s obituary and online guest book at www.AlaskanFuneral.com