Ernest Ballard Beath Sr., a retired research analyst with the National Security Agency who served as a translator in World War II for Adms. Thomas C. Kincaid, J. J. "Jocko" Clark and John S. McCain, died Thursday of complications from diabetes at his home in Cambridge. He was 80.
Mr. Beath was born Feb. 20, 1920, in Kaiying, China, to missionary parents from Wisconsin. As a small boy, he loved to sail, once fabricating a tiny boat out of plywood and tar, christening it the "Tarbaby" and sailing it with a friend down the Huangpu River into Shanghai.
He graduated from the Shanghai American School in 1937 and then came to the United States for college. After briefly attending Wake Forest University in North Carolina, he transferred to the University of Southern California, where he earned a degree in international relations. Later, he studied Japanese through a program at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
The Navy Reserve put his language skills to good use during World War II, assigning him to work as a translator on aircraft carriers in the South Pacific. As an interpreter, he worked directly for Adms. Kincaid, Clark and McCain, translating enemy radio dispatches and interviewing prisoners of war.
"Admiral McCain said he wasn't going to sea without Ernie Beath; he wanted him on his staff," recalled Eleanor Poteat Beath, his wife of 55 years. "He'd listen to the reports and hear that the airplanes were coming, and tell them to get ready."
The young lieutenant's work later merited several mentions by Admiral Clark in his 1967 memoir, "Carrier Admiral." Of one skirmish, the admiral wrote: "We knew from Lieutenant Beath's Japanese intelligence that over a hundred planes had collected at Iwo and Chichi and were only waiting for more favorable weather before heading south to attack our invasion forces." It allowed a preemptive move that blunted the Japanese attack, he wrote.
Mr. Beath's service earned him two Bronze Stars and other medals and citations.
After the war, he joined the NSA and from 1964 to 1967 headed its Taiwan Defense Command.
On retiring in 1974, he and his wife moved from Annapolis to Town Point in Cambridge, where he turned his attentions to restoring a 1791 farmhouse and sailing on the Little Choptank River.
But he didn't retire his language skills.
For several years, he volunteered with the Project Read Program through the Dorchester County Public Library, teaching English to Chinese immigrants. He belonged to the Antioch United Methodist Church in Town Point and the NSA's Phoenix Society.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Antioch United Methodist Church, in Cambridge, with the Rev. Gloria S. Attix officiating. Burial will be at Arlington National Cemetery.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by six children - two daughters, Katherine Beath Godsey of Fountain Inn, S.C., and Nida Beath Petachenko of Virginia Beach, Va.; four sons, Ernest Beath Jr. of Cambridge, John Beath of Tyaskin, Md., James Beath of Upperco and Richard Beath of St. Paul, Minn.; a brother, Sterling S. Beath, of Evansville, Wis.; 10 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Antioch United Methodist Church, c/o Susan Meredith, 5413 Town Point Road, Cambridge 21613, or to Habitat for Humanity, 350 N. Aurora St., Easton 21601.