After the veterans with “POW-MIA” inscribed on their black ties saluted the casket, after the chaplain talked of time and healing, a man in a dark suit slipped on reading glasses and rose from his pew. He walked to the stage of a Northern Virginia funeral home and pulled from his pocket the tribute he had written the night before.
“Seventy years ago, our uncle, he died for our country,” Richard Bean, voice quavering, read to a small crowd of about 75 people. “One year ago, an incredible journey came to know him as a hero.”
That uncle, also named Richard Bean, grew up in and around Manassas. In 1941, just months before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Army. He deployed the following year with the 105th Infantry Regiment, which was in the first wave of units sent into Pacific Theater combat. On July 7, 1944, while fighting on Saipan, Bean and his comrades faced the largest suicidal banzai attack of the war and, at 24, he was reported missing in action. Three years later, the military declared him dead. Posthumously, he was promoted to sergeant and awarded the Bronze Star.
Decades ago, his family gave up hope that his body would be recovered. But early last year, an organization searching for Japanese casualties discovered Bean’s remains in a mass grave where four other American soldiers have also been found.
The journey Richard spoke of ended Friday with Bean’s funeral in Manassas and his burial at Quantico National Cemetery.
For Richard, Bean had always meant something special. They never met, but Bean was the man for whom he was named, the uncle who went to war and, as his nephew heard over and over, never came home.
Haunted by missing details
As a boy, Richard knew his uncle through a single photograph.
It hung beside an organ on the den wall of his grandmother’s home in Haymarket. It showed a young man in a crisp uniform with his arms held behind his back and his stare directed off-camera. His jaw was square, his eyes confident.
Taped to the photo’s plain wooden frame was a Purple Heart.