Cliff Biram III will always cherish the telephone conversation he had with his father, retired Air Force Major Cliff Biram, in the hours before Veterans Day last month.
“We had nearly finished talking and I told him, ‘You know, I just want to thank you for your service, and I know you don’t like to hear that because you didn’t serve in combat,’ the son recalled.
“He said, ‘Well son, I want to thank you and your brother and mother for your service. You boys and your mom had to deal with all the moving and being alone for long periods of time while I was overseas.’ His last words to me were, ‘I love you.’ He was careful to make sure he let us know how much he cared for us with his words and actions.”
The next morning, Veterans Day, his father the veteran was struck by a truck while in a crosswalk on Wake Forest Road in Raleigh. He was suffering from a concussion and bleeding from the back of the head when emergency workers rushed him to WakeMed.
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Cliff Biram never regained consciousness. He died 10 days later. He was 66.
High school sweetheart
Cliff Biram’s life had the makings of a Norman Rockwell painting. He was born and raised in Brilliant, Ohio, a small town about 460 miles south of Chicago with a population of about 1,400. He was an Eagle Scout.
Biram and his future wife, Twana, attended the same high school, where they both graduated in 1970.
“We dated for a short period,” Twana Biram remembered this week from Raleigh, “and then I dumped him for a basketball player.”
After high school graduation, Biram enrolled at the Virginia Military Institute. He majored in electrical engineering. It was during his freshman year that he rekindled his romance with Twana, who, with waist-length hair and a guitar slung across her shoulder, had moved to California to help an older aunt with newborn twins.
“I went to take care of her family, and I became a Christian,” Twana said. “So, I wrote letters of apology to all of the people I had done bad things to.”
One of the people to receive a letter was the high school beau she dumped for the jock.
“He was thrilled to get the letter,” said Twana, a retired English professor. “Things were so grim for him at VMI.”
Cliff Biram asked her out, and the two dated throughout his undergraduate days.
One day before college graduation in 1974, Biram was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force. One week after graduation, he and Twana got married.
They moved to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., where he worked as a communications officer installing underground fiber optic wires. He traveled the world overseeing installation of wires in Germany, Turkey, the Azores and the Philippines.
The Birams left Mississippi for England in 1979, where he worked at Royal Air Force Bentwaters, about 80 miles north of London. Their oldest son, Cliff Biram III, was born there.
“It was wonderful there,” Twana Biram recalled. “We loved it.”
The family would later return to the states as Biram continued to be promoted by the Air Force. They lived in California, where son Paul was born, and Illinois and Mississippi again.
Twana Biram said she never had to endure the fear and uncertainty felt by many military wives whose husbands are deployed in combat zones. But she had her share of sleepless nights and fearful days.
“Back in the ’80s, there were a series of airplane hijackings by terrorists, primarily places in Europe,” she said. “Their modus operandi was to take people prisoner and use them as hostages, usually for money. They would kill the person and throw them on the tarmac.”
She said the hijackers targeted members of the military, who subsequently received orders to not show their military identification, wear their uniforms or even wear horn-rimmed sunglasses when boarding a plane.
“Everytime he got on one of those planes, I was terrified because I never knew which plane it would be,” Twana said. “It was not the same as combat. He wasn’t being fired at. But it certainly felt very, very scary.”
Biram retired as a major in the Air Force in 1994, and the family moved to Mascoutah, Ill., where he worked as a contractor in computer networking with the U.S. Postal Service. The Birams came to Raleigh in 1996 and bought a two-story, split-level home in the Durant Trails subdivision. Cliff continued working with the postal service as a manager of networking technology.
Cliff Biram III, who now lives in Florida, said his father had an old-fashioned way about him that brought to mind qualities such as chivalry, humility and honor.
He had one foot in the old world and one foot in the new. He was a knight.
Cliff Biram III, on his father, Cliff Biram
“He didn’t care for braggarts,” he said. “He loved to give gifts and was shy about getting them.”
His father enjoyed taking him to the museum and airfield at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, where he could see his two favorite airplanes – the B-17 Bomber and the SB-70 long-range strategic bomber.
“He had one foot in the old world and one foot in the new,” Cliff Biram III said. “He was a knight.”
On Saturday, Nov. 11, Biram awoke early. He was going to do some work at the post office, and he planned to walk.
Just after 8 a.m., he was crossing Wake Forest Road near its intersection with Ronald Drive. A 2015 GMC truck was turning left from Ronald onto Wake Forest Road. The driver, Thomas Allen Turner of Rolesville, told police that the light was green and that he looked for traffic before turning. Turner said he saw Biram at the last minute in the crosswalk. Turner said Biram turned around and started walking back to the sidewalk to avoid the collision, but the truck still crashed into him, according to Raleigh police.
Turner was charged with failing to yield to a pedestrian, according to the accident report.
November was National Novel Writing Month, and Twana Biram wanted to write 50,000 words by the month’s end. She remembers being slow to rise that morning to write, when her husband woke her about 7 a.m.
“I told him, ‘those words will have to wait.’”
But Biram was insistent.
“He told me, those words will come so fast,’” Twana Biram said, her eyes filling with tears. “Then he gently nudged me awake and said, ‘I love you.’
“His last words to me were, ‘I love you.’”