James Bean was born on December 5, 1923, in Cox's Creek, Kentucky. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve on November 14, 1942, and entered the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Army Air Forces in February 1943. He was commissioned a 2d Lt and awarded his pilot wings at Foster Field, Texas, in January 1944, and remained there as an instructor pilot until deploying to the European Theater as a P-47 Lightning pilot later in the war. Maj Bean served in various fighter pilot assignments throughout the late 1940's and 1950's, and then served as Operations Officer of the 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, where he helped test the F-105 Thunderchief from May 1958 to November 1959. His next assignment was to Nellis AFB, Nevada, where he served with the F-105 Combat Crew Training Squadron until he deployed to Japan with the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing. After a tour at the Pentagon in 1966 and 1967, Col Bean deployed to Southeast Asia as Deputy Commander for Operations of the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing at Korat Royal Thai AFB, Thailand, from October 1967 until he was forced to eject over North Vietnam and was taken as a Prisoner of War on January 3, 1968. After spending 1,898 days in captivity, he was released during Operation Homecoming on March 14, 1973. He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries, and then attended the Industrial College of the Armed Forces before retiring from the Air Force on September 18, 1974. James Bean died on January 3, 2006, and was buried at the New Salem Baptist Cemetery in Cox's Creek, Kentucky.
His Silver Star Citation reads:
Colonel James E. Bean distinguished himself by gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force over North Vietnam on 18 December 1967. On that date, Colonel Bean led a flight of four F-105 Thunderchiefs assigned to destroy a highly strategic bridge in North Vietnam. Approaching the target Colonel Bean's aircraft sustained serious damage from hostile anti-aircraft fire. He courageously elected to proceed to the target and with great determination accomplished his assigned mission. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Colonel Bean has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.