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Past and Present United by Trinity Teacher’s Discovery

Box of Vietnam Memorabilia Impacts Family of Former Teacher

Bucky Stalker, Staff Reporter

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“It was the way of Nam,” said Sonny Pullem, U.S. Army veteran of the war in Vietnam. “There weren’t very many heroes. You either lived or died.”

The United States signed a truce with North Vietnam in 1973 and ended involvement in the country in 1975 when the South was overrun by the North.  The bravery of those who fought in Vietnam has been forgotten by many. But a box of items discovered by Trinity teacher Mr. Wayne Kraus connected with Vietnam and former Trinity teacher Mr. Terry Bean.

U.S. Air Force Colonel James E. Bean, Terry’s uncle, was a recipient of the Silver Star medal for valor in combat in Vietnam, given for exemplary bravery in the face of danger.   

We were clearing out an old barn that was piled with stuff, and I saw this box of stuff from Vietnam. I thought, ‘Cool, I’m going to keep this.’ I thought it was the neatest thing.”

— Trinity teacher Mr. Wayne Kraus

Col. Bean was flying the F-105 Thunderchief, a new and improved version of the F-100 Super Sabre, when he was shot down over Hanoi. The family was not sure if he survived the crash, knowing that the copilot had been killed on impact.

photo from http://www.veterantributes.org/TributeDetail.php?recordID=1030
U.S. Air Force Colonel James E. Bean

Little did they know, Col. Bean had been taken prisoner by the Viet Cong. For his first two years of captivity, the family had no sign of life from him until a letter arrived for his mother. The letter was used by the Pentagon to find clues about his whereabouts and condition.

The Pentagon used a handwriting specialist to figure out information. It was concluded that Col. Bean was suffering from malaria and was in solitary confinement for three and a half years, with no interaction with other prisoners of war. The two-year period afterward also included very little contact with others.

“We were informed the medical care was spotty,” Terry Bean said.

Col. Bean ate little but rice and soup for one season (six months) and only pumpkin soup for the next growing season.

After being held captive from 1968-1973, he was released during Operation Homecoming.  He was hospitalized for a short time for the injuries he had sustained and for malnutrition. Col. Bean was then awarded the Silver Star and began his civilian life in 1974 when he retired from the U.S. Air Force and settled down on a small farm behind Bernheim Forest in Nelson County.  He died in 2006.

About 10 years ago Kraus found a box of Col. Bean’s memorabilia — assignments and letters from Congressmen and Senators.

At the time Kraus didn’t realize the impact of what he found.  He said, “We were clearing out an old barn that was piled with stuff, and I saw this box of stuff from Vietnam. I thought, ‘Cool, I’m going to keep this.’ I thought it was the neatest thing.”

Kraus held onto the box of relics, not realizing until recently that the items he had were connected to former coworker Terry Bean, who retired from Trinity a couple of years ago.

The items were passed along to Col. Bean’s widow, Nancy, and his eldest son, Brett. Some items will likely be distributed among the family. The Bean family has been very appreciative of Kraus’s discovery, which will allow Col. Bean’s legacy to live on through his family.

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