For Ron Bean, a close encounter with kamikaze

Ron Bean was on a beach in Okinawa when a Japanese Zero fighter plane flew over his head.

“When he went by over us, he tipped over (and) looked down looking at us (with a) big smile on his face,” Bean said.

Bean was relieved.

He wasn’t the target.

“We found out what he was after,” Bean explained. “(I) could hear the motor take off, (he) found a ship out on the dock. He hit that right at the water line.”

The pilot, a kamikaze, sent the ship to the bottom of the bay.

For Bean, who enlisted at 17, “that was the closest I got to any of the Japanese.”

But describing himself as a “little wee kid,” that was close enough.

Born in Warren in 1927, Bean’s family moved to Weldbank when he was four. He was “there until I turned 17. A buddy of mine.. said ‘Let’s join the Navy.'”

And he had an idea of what he was potentially getting into.

“We always listened to the radios,” he said, keeping current on all the news about the war.

So he hitch-hiked to Erie and joined up in 1944. He was called back, took a physical, and passed.

He was sent to the Chicago Naval Base for boot camp.

But he did it all without the blessing of his parents.

When asked what his parents thought about his enlistment, he simply said “no way!”

“My mother says, ‘well, you can go up and if you want to, you can check it out,'” she told him. “But, ‘she says I know you’re not going to pass so I’ll let you go.'”

“I went up and I passed,” he said.

After basic, on December 1, Bean got a nine-day leave, but remembered the disappointment of being stuck in barracks for Christmas and New Years.

He was then transferred to Davisville, Rhode Island where he was assigned to a trucking outfit in the Seabees as part of the 139th Navy Construction Battalion.

“When I joined, they wanted to know what I did in civilian life,” Bean explained. “Well, I drove truck some.” His family had a neighbor in Weldbank who had a fleet of trucks. His father drove and “when they came back, (I) would come back and fill them up with gas.” He said he drove truck for the first time at nine years old on a route from Akeley, through Warren, to Tiona.

“When I joined there, I said I drove truck,” he said.

From Rhode Island, Bean fully expected to be headed to Europe.

But they were loaded on a troop train and sent to California, eventually shipped out to Pearl Harbor.

But from there they had no idea where they were going.

At Pearl, where they only stopped for one night, “we wasn’t allowed off the ship or nothing.”

Their travels continued.

“I didn’t know what we was going to do,” he explained. “I asked ‘Where are we going now?'” He was told that the destination was locked in a cupboard and that “no one was allowed to get in it yet.”

Eventually they made it to their destination Okinawa.

According to the unit history, made available by the U.S. Navy, the first elements of 139th made it to Okinawa on May 27, 1945. “Trucks were unloaded from the cargo ships, thoroughly checked, and serviced. Then the battalion began trucking cargo from the Okinawa beaches to the inland supply dumps….For some time the equipment was operated around the clock, and the men worked two 12-hour shifts.”

Bean said they lived in tents and “started hauling anything you could think of bombs, building material.”

They would “go to the docks and pick them up then go to the dump, (a) place to keep them and store them and that… That’s what we kept doing all the time we was there. (We) never saw any Japanese there but they had these trip wires around on some of the paths. During the night you would hear a flair go up and all of a sudden gun shots.”

He said a Japanese plane would fly over every night at 10 p.m., consistently enough that the men “called him bed check Charlie.”

They also heard from Tokyo Rose, English-speaking Japanese women who broadcast Japanese propaganda.

“We had to listen to her tell us to surrender to the Japanese,” Bean said. He said she would say “‘You can have anything you want. (We) will give you a house, a woman.’ She said ‘So your best bet is to surrender to us Japanese. We’ll take good care of you.'”

“Well, we knew better than that,” he said.

Bean had one other close call while on Okinawa.

“(I) pulled down on a dock one night to load something up and they yelled ‘turn (the) lights off and hide behind the truck,'” he said. “It was a Japanese soldier taking pot shots on the dock.” The soldier was eventually captured and taken prisoner. “That was the closest I came,” he said. “I hid behind that truck because I was not going to get shot.”

While he was “not one to write letters that much,” he said, he tried to devise a system to tell his family where he was when he did write.

“I didn’t know how to tell them so I’d take a stamp on the envelope… under the stamp I’d like around the edge of the stamp.” And on the back of the stamp he wrote “Ok” (Okinawa). He said he was “trying to tell them where I was” but he wasn’t sure if his family understood the message.

“Finally they declared Japan had surrendered,” he explained. “In the mean time, I would up with a hernia.” After surgery, he was sent back to his company on light duty. “I don’t know if the company commander was mad when I went to the hospital. His light duty was on the garbage truck.” As a result, Bean said, the “hernia broke open big,” requiring an operation that lasted eight hours.

So he wound up transferred to the hospital, helping where he could during his recovery.

From there, he worked his was back to the states.

After a month in Guam, he boarded a ship that “went under the Golden Gate Bridge.” Another transfer brought him to a base in New York state. Moved to the Brooklyn Naval Yard, Bean wanted out, calling it the “dirtiest base we had ever been on.”

He was told a transfer wasn’t an option unless he re-enlisted for three years.

When asked if the three years was worth it to get out of Brooklyn,”Oh, yes,” he said.

Those three years of peace time service would see Bean serve at Norfolk, work decommissioning ships, driving jeeps and at San Juan Puerto Rico on a sea plane tender, an AVP 52.

“(I) was in the C&R shop, crash and repair shop,” he said. “That was my job there.”

He was discharged at the rank of staff sergeant.

With his hitch over, Bean returned home and met a girl, Marie, who he attended business school with. He also joined the National Guard.

“Some of my buddies talked me into joining the National Guard in Warren,” he said. “I took it one year at a time.”

When he joined for the third year, the Korean Conflict broke open.

Ron and Marie were married June 17, 1950.

His National Guard unit was activated in September.

Bean served as a cook at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, during Korea, finishing his time as the cook in the camp stockade.

“Every other weekend she (Marie) would come out on the train”and spend the weekend at Atterbury, said Bean.

Ron said that Marie worked in the office at the National Forge while he served and they bought a home on Jackson Run Road.

“Then I come home and she was there waiting for me,” he said.

Bean, now 87, said he worked at the State Hospital for two years after his discharge and also drove bus and worked in auto body repair and at Firestone. He then gained employment with the Post Office and retired at age 60 after 16 years of service, of which four were as postmaster in Chandlers Valley and four in the same post in Irvine.

He joined the Sheffield Volunteer Fire Department in 1955 after they moved to the Sheffield area in 1953. He said he has “been a member of that ever since,” serving as chief, assistant chief and ambulance chief throughout the years.

Marie explained that he joined the 112th Infantry Regiment Association and “we went to all the reunions.”

She said Ron “never talked about his service time until two years ago. Some of this is new to me.”