Dean S. Ness, 91, a long-term resident of midcoast Maine, died on Sept. 2 at the Gregory Wing Facility of St. Andrews Village Retirement Community.
Weighing a whopping 13 pounds, Dean arrived on Christmas Eve in 1925 in Fergus Falls, Minn. as the only child of John Ness and Pamsey Berg. The family later moved to Aberdeen, S.D. where Dean graduated from high school at the age of 15 and then enlisted in the Army at 16. He volunteered for the Army Airborne School and, later, as a member of the 82nd Airborne, he participated in all five of the combat jumps the division made during WWII.
His military tenure was rich with stories that were sometimes tragic, frequently humorous but most often both humbling and inspiring. They included a trip to Ireland aboard the Queen Mary, travel to Tunisia, participation in the invasion of Sicily and paratrooping into Normandy on D-Day. In one of his more poignant recollections he shared his wonder at unexpectedly being enlisted to deliver a baby in the midst of the war-torn French countryside when he came across a young woman in labor. In another, he explained his sometimes maddening habit of stuffing his refrigerator to the brim with food as a psychological remnant of the fear of going hungry, which he constantly battled after surviving captivity as a prisoner of war in a German stalag.
After being liberated by Russian troops in 1945, Dean began studying psychology, at one point accompanying one of his professors on a trip to Switzerland where he had the great honor of studying under renowned psychologist Carl Jung.
He enrolled at the University of Minnesota and later transferred to the University of South Dakota but lingering effects from his four years of combat took its toll on him and in 1950 he took to the road. His year of wandering saw him living under a bridge, riding boxcars and coal tenders and doing odd jobs but, most importantly, returning to himself with a new found sense of freedom.
In 1956 Dean earned his degree in psychology from the University of Chicago and in 1966 he founded Harbinger House, a halfway house for youth in Santa Barbara. After closing it, he hit the road once again, winding up in San Francisco, where he met his wife, Mary Ragonese in 1973. The two married in Carmel, Cal. in 1975 and moved to Florida to live with Dean’s parents during their final years. After his parents passed away in the mid-1980s, Dean and Mary moved to Waldoboro. After Mary passed away in the early 1990s, he moved to Damariscotta where he lived until the past year.
As a decorated war veteran, Dean was the recipient of the Bronze Star, the Soldier’s Medal and the Purple Heart, among others, but as far as he was concerned, he was not a hero, just a soldier who survived and who discovered himself during periods of solitary wandering. Speaking of his time on the road he once said, “If I saw a mountain, I’d climb it and see what was on the other side, and I found who I was for a change.”
Dean is survived by nephews, Eric C. Anderson of Bath, and Richard B. Anderson of Walpole, N.H.; and niece, Amy K. Anderson of Portland.
A funeral service will be held at 1 p.m., Fri., Sept. 29 at the Maine Veteran’s Cemetery, Civic Center Drive, in Augusta.
To extend online condolences, visit his Book of Memories at www.hallfuneralhomes.com.
Hall’s of Waldoboro has care of the arrangements.