Robert Byrd in the Klan Only as a "Young Man"?

Michael Luo filed from the McCain campaign trail for Tuesday's edition as McCain visited Obama's hometown of Chicago to attack his position on Iran in "Obama Talk On Iranians Draws Fire From McCain."

In an aside, Luo relayed that former Klan member Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd was endorsing Barack Obama - albeit a little late to help Obama in Byrd's home state of West Virginia.

[Obama] picked up five more superdelegates on Monday, including the Senate's longest-serving member, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, less than a week after Mr. Byrd's state went for Mrs. Clinton by 41 percentage points.

Luo brought up Sen. Byrd's past membership in the Ku Klux Klan, but then minimized it.

That endorsement was emblematic of a nation vastly changed over the last half-century. Mr. Byrd once opposed integrating the military, filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and, as a young man, was briefly a member of the Ku Klux Klan. He has frequently expressed regret for that past.

Byrd was 28 years old (which is really pushing the "young man" qualifier) in 1945 when he wrote a letter to die-hard segregationist and fellow Democrat, Sen. Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi:

"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."

It's impossible to tell how "brief" Byrd's actual membership in the Klan was, but he joined in 1942 and praised the organization as late as 1946.