Vietnam Memorial Names –Michael Najarian, Fred Beckermann, James Bauder
This continues our review of the lives of the men on Montrose’s Vietnam Memorial.
Michael Anthony Najarian, June 18, 1966 – Michael Najarian, known to his friends as Tony, was a La Crescenta resident, growing up on the 3700 block of Altura Avenue, and working after school at the La Crescenta Pharmacy. Tony loved music and played in several local folk-singing groups. Tony planned to follow the career path of his dad, a fire chief for the fire department, as soon as he finished his tour of duty in the Navy.
Tony graduated from hospital corpsman training in April 1966, and was attached to a Marine unit near Da Nang. On June 15, 1966, just two months after arriving in Vietnam, he was treating wounded Marines during a battle when he was struck by bullets. Wounded, he was transported to Da Nang Hospital where he died three days later. He was just 21.
The name of Michael Najarian is on the Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. A group of Vietnam vets have dedicated themselves to lovingly wash the names on the memorial, in a sense to wash away their survivors’ guilt. One of them is Michael Najarian, a former Air Force sergeant who, just by chance, has the same name as our Michael Najarian. When he saw his name on the wall, it shook him to the core, and he became emotional.
“I just sort of sank to the ground,” the surviving Najarian said. “The war is never over for anyone. Not for me or anyone else.”
Fred Benjamin “Beno” Beckermann, July 3, 1966 – Beno Beckermann grew up in Texas, but graduated from Verdugo Hills High School where he played clarinet in the marching band. He joined the Marines right out of high school in June of ’64. Beno loved the Marines and rose to the rank of corporal, servicing the guns of the field artillery. He saw action on his first tour of duty in Vietnam then returned for a second tour.
Supporting front line troops at Chu Lai, his gun position was overrun by the Viet Cong in a night attack. In hand-to-hand fighting, four men were killed and Beno was struck in the back by shrapnel from a grenade. He was evacuated to Clark Field in the Philippines. He had severe spinal injuries and faced paralysis, but died a week later. His parents were informed of his death on the 4th of July.
James Reginald Bauder, September 21, 1966 – James Bauder had been MIA since 1966, but amazingly his remains were found just last year.
We don’t know about his early years, only that his parents lived on the upper La Cañada portion of Ocean View Boulevard. James’ father was a superior court judge in Los Angeles. In 1966, James was 35 years old, a Navy lt. commander, and pilot of an F4 Phantom jet on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Coral Sea. Bauder, along with his radio officer James Mills, were on a two-plane night mission to bomb targets of opportunity along a river. The lead plane would drop flares while the following plane would hit illuminated targets, such as bridges and supply barges. Bauder and Mills were just starting their second run on the river when, swinging wide over the ocean, they disappeared. Searches were made but not a trace was found. Both men were declared Missing In Action. Bauder left behind a wife and two kids.
Fast-forward to today, the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency is actively searching for missing servicemen with the cooperation of the Vietnamese government. In 2008, it located the remains of Bauder’s F4 in 30 feet of water off the coast. Divers have been scouring the site each year for human remains, and late last year a portion of a femur was brought to the surface. It was DNA tested and ID’d as belonging to James Bauder. The Internet exploded with outpourings of both grief and relief from the many who had worn POW/MIA bracelets inscribed with Bauder’s name. In October 2017, James Bauder finally came home.