By Sgt. 1st Class Laura BerryFebruary 4, 2020
FALL RIVER, Mass. - Like many young people, he was searching for a challenge, an exploration. He had grown up in a very urban atmosphere and had seen little of the world. He needed to find out what he was capable of.
Robert Bean enlisted in the military Memorial Day weekend in 1979 under the delayed entry program. He was 18 years old, 5'9" and 120lbs.
All of his friends knew he was joining some branch of the military, and each of them advised him "just don't join the Marine Corps." So, he joined the Marine Corps.
His first plane ride was to boot camp at Parris Island on Sept 7, 1979.
Bean was a musician in the Marine Corps. After boot camp and completion of the Naval School of Music, he said he was lucky enough to be stationed at the oldest post of the Corps, 8th and I Barracks in Washington, DC. He became a bugler with "The Commandant's Own" U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps. They traveled across the nation and world with The Silent Drill Team and Marine Corps Color Guard representing the Marine Corps and Nation.
"For a kid who had never seen much outside of Massachusetts up until then, this was an eye-opening experience," said Bean. "We performed for Presidents, celebrities, but, most importantly, patriotic Americans who, like myself, may not have had opportunities to see ceremonial Marines in person."
Bean left the Marine Corps to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston. While he was there he grew his hair long. One day, there was an attack on the Marine Barracks in Lebanon. Well over 200 Marines were killed, including his friend Richard Gordon. They had been friends since the 1st grade. Richard's parents asked the Marine Corps if he could play Taps at his funeral. While he was in class, he received word -- before cell phones existed - that the Commandant had called his house. He was authorized to don his uniform once more to perform Taps at the funeral in Somerville, Mass.
"I cut my hair and felt so honored to be able to do this last farewell for Richard," said Bean. "It was at that moment, I realized how privileged I had been. So many had served this nation in times of hostility to include my father and all my uncles. I had the ability to honor them in some small way through music. I also missed the comradery which is something you only get in the military."
He joined the 26th Yankee Division Band, Massachusetts National Guard, at the Commonwealth Armory in Boston in 1984. He later joined the 215th Army Band in Fall River.
Bean worked for UPS for many years but continued to serve in the National Guard part-time. In 2013, his unit's Readiness NCO sent him a job posting for a Casualty Notification / Casualty Assistance Officer thinking it might be something that would interest him.
Looking back, Bean said he was flattered that the Readiness NCO would think of him for the position since he did not actually need a job. He was very comfortable in his position at UPS. The casualty job is something that many Soldiers shy away from considering the relationship with death. For Bean, this job related to compassion, empathy, and an opportunity to help a family at the worst time of their life.
"I am so incredibly grateful for Col. (Michael) Allain's trust in me when he hired me," said Bean. "How many people in this world have this opportunity to go to work with the sole purpose of helping and being kind. It has been the absolute best job of my life."
After being in the position for a few years, he became certified to teach the Casualty Assistance Course. Because he had done so many Notification and Assistance missions he had a lot to share with those who have never done the mission.
"It's a subject I am very passionate about," said Bean. "We must take care of these families as if they were our own. Just as we would never leave a Soldier on the battlefield, nor should we leave their families in their darkest hour."
In 2019, he helped a family with the repatriation of an uncle who died at a Korean POW Camp in 1953. As he was helping the nephew, he learned that the Soldier who had buried his uncle in the POW Camp in 1953 was still alive and living locally. Bean found him and realized that this was an amazing story that had to be told. This was going to be a homecoming for him as well. He was able to introduce him to the family. He felt honored to be able to assist as the 93-year-old man was interviewed by Jeff Glor on CBS News.
"As my own family has dwindled due to death, I feel so incredibly grateful that my extended family has grown due to the deep connections I have made as Casualty Assistance Officer to so many wonderful families," said Bean. "Each one of them has a piece of my heart that were seared through tears and hugs."
2019 was a great year for Bean. In March, he has presented an award from the American Red Cross for being a Military Hero. In May, he was presented an award by Massachusetts Fallen Heroes at their banquet.
He was also asked to contribute to a manual the Department of Defense put together relating to "Postvention" after a military suicide. They used a considerable amount of his suggestions and he is quoted within the manual.
Bean spent over 40 years combined in the military. There were many Saturday and Sunday mornings when he really asked himself why he was dragging himself out of bed to go to drill. He was not in great need of the money. When he really thought about why he stayed in for so long, the answer became crystal clear.
"I couldn't wait to spend time with the men and women of the 215th Army Band because they were guaranteed to make me laugh through the day," said Bean. "There is not a funnier group of people and they are all in the National Guard for the right reasons. I have been so grateful to have served with them and that is what I will miss most."
1st Sgt. Jeffrey Hyde, 215th Army Band, said that Bean made a positive impact on the lives of countless Soldiers, families and civilians in his career.
"His leadership and mentorship established a strong presence amongst the NCOs of the 215th Army Band," said Hyde. "He has always been the go-to mentor for the entire Unit and I am honored to have served aside him."
Bean felt it was pretty easy to stay in the 215th. He explained that when Soldiers are happy where they are then the retention remains strong.
If someone is considering joining the Army Band, Bean said they should know they are going to be among the elite and will need to practice individually daily, prepare and be creative every day work hard. The job is not always only two days a month and two weeks a year.
"You will regret nothing," said Bean. "The benefits you will receive will all be worth it and that includes the friendships and collaborations you will experience."
Now that he is retired from the Massachusetts National Guard, he will be returning to UPS and will eventually retire from there in an undetermined amount of time. He plans to eventually go back to college using the GI Bill and to be more active in the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company where he is the Bandmaster.