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Freedom Museum hosts Japanese group who found remains of Manassas WWII soldier

Discoveries. They lead to change and inspire new discoveries.

Usan Kurata and Yukari Akatsuka know much about discoveries and their power to change things. They are members of Kuentai, a Japanese non-governmental group formed in 2006 whose mission is recovering remains of World War II soldiers killed in the Pacific Theater.

In 2014, Kuentai-USA was officially formed after American servicemen’s remains were found in 2013. Kurata and Akatsuka live in Japan and recently came to Manassas to meet with local veterans groups to share their mission.

Why Manassas? Because one of the servicemen they discovered was Richard Norris Bean who grew up in the Bradley Forest area of Manassas. He was deployed with the U.S. Army’s 105th Infantry Regiment of the 27th Infantry Division as a private first class. In July 2013, Kuentai found Bean’s remains on the island of Saipan, one of the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. commonwealth in the western Pacific.

Near his remains were some of his belongings including his Army dog tags with “Manassas, VA” imprinted on them. Also on the tags were “Richard N. Bean” and his mother’s name, “Rosie Bean.”

On Aug. 30, Kurata and Akatsuka were invited to speak at the Freedom Museum located inside the main terminal of Manassas Regional Airport to a room filled with representatives from such organizations as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans and the Freedom Museum.

Kurata is a journalist, a Shinto priest and original founder of Kuentai. And Akatsuka is secretary general of Kuentai-USA, the American branch of the organization. She received her BA from the University of Hawaii in Peace and Conflict Management.

Akatsuka’s presentation included a mix of slides, maps and statistics of several field excavations in the Pacific, including Bean’s. She spoke of the urgency to find more American bodies at the Saipan location since the property is slated for condominiums. To rescue them before construction starts, Kuentai-USA needs support since the non-profit is supported entirely by charitable donations.

Four or five times a year, Kuentai-USA representatives travel to Saipan for field excavations; an archaeologist is required to be part of the team to ensure excavations are properly executed. They plan to start another field investigation at the end of October through early November.

More than 80,000 U.S. service members (half of them are in the Pacific) from World War II are still missing and may never be recovered or given a proper burial. Working with veterans, families and students, Kuentai-USA wants to raise public awareness so wounds of war can heal by the mutual respect and cooperation of U.S. and Japanese citizens.

Akatsuka answered questions from the group. Retired Marine Lt. Col. Jerry Martin who is active in area veterans’ groups including American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars and who was involved in efforts to bring Bean home, said, “Saipan is U.S. territory; Kuentai is working on U.S. soil, but there seems to be many impediments hindering their progress. But both nationalities [Japan and American] benefit from their work.”

Bean was defending his unit against Japanese forces during the Battle of Saipan (June 15-July 9, 1944) when he was killed on July 7, 1944 during a Japanese Banzai suicide attack. He was 24 years old. His body was part of a mass grave with other American soldiers of the 105th Regiment and Japanese war dead.

“About 500 U.S. servicemen were killed; that’s where we’re doing excavations to recover more. It’s really a disposal site instead of a ‘mass grave,’” Akatsuka said.

Bean wasn’t the first American to be found at the Saipan site. The first American remains were discovered in August 2011 and the second in March 2013.

The third U.S. soldier was Richard N. Bean of Manassas in July 2013. One month later, Pfc. Bernard Gavrin was found only two meters away from Bean.

“We were there to recover Japanese, but then found American servicemen’s remains,” Akatsuka said.

Working as a field volunteer at the time, Akatsuka said, “I was there; I touched Bean’s dog tags. Bean changed my life.”
Kuentai contacted the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, or JPAC, the U.S. government office that works to recover missing soldiers and launched their search for Bean’s family.

In September 2013, Kurata and Akatsuka came to the U.S. to do research at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland and traveled to Manassas to see what information they could learn about Bean.

After visiting the Prince William County’s visitor center and Manassas city hall, they were directed to the Bull Run Regional Library’s RELIC Room (a collection of local history and genealogy resources) where they met Tish Como, one of RELIC’s librarians. “It was a Friday evening; they were leaving the next day, so we started the research that day and continued communication over email,” Como explained.

A few weeks later, Como called Richard J. Bean of Nokesville, nephew of Bean to tell him the news of his uncle. In November 2013, Kurata and Akatsuka traveled to meet with Bean at his house in Nokesville and brought items found near his uncle.

Almost a year later on Sept. 4, 2014, Bean’s remains were positively identified by a DNA match with a family member.
After 70 years, he was properly buried on Oct. 3, 2014 at Quantico National Cemetery with full military honors by the Army, and posthumously, was promoted to sergeant.

Kurata and Akatsuka attended the memorial service along with Como. “The Bean family ensured Usan and Yukari were recognized during the service and burial,” Como said.

The Richard N. Bean exhibit is in the World War II section of the Freedom Museum; it was dedicated during a special ceremony on Memorial Day, May 25, 2015. The exhibit includes the story of Bean, photos and a description of the battle. A glass display case contains several of Bean’s artifacts, including his Army ring, helmet and boot fragments, buttons, German and Japanese coins, a U.S. penny-and his metal “Manassas, VA” dog tags.

“As many and as quickly as possible ...” is the tagline for Kuentai-USA. This slogan was chosen when it was obvious that the remains underground were badly decomposed, returning to the earth.

“I’m representing 43,000 American servicemen still missing in the Pacific,” Akatsuka said. “I don’t want to stop looking. I don’t want to see condos that are planned to be built on the island of Saipan. These men, who are fallen heroes, bravely fought for your country and need to be brought home.”

Willie Barr, 16th district vice commander for the American Legion attended the meeting at the Freedom Museum. He said, “It’s all about patriotism. If you don’t know where you came from, you don’t understand the present.”

More information about Kuentai-USA and to learn about volunteering and donation opportunities, visit their website, http://www.kuentai-usa.com .

The Freedom Museum is located in the main terminal building at Manassas Regional Airport located at 10600 Harry J. Parrish Blvd. in Manassas.

The museum is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week in almost all weather conditions.  Call the Freedom Museum at 703-393-0660 or go to www. freedommuseum.org.

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