Recently, I met Bernie at Valencia’s Corner Bakery where we had coffee while we chatted and I interviewed him for two hours. When another Santa Clarita Valley Veteran inexplicably backed out of our interview, I phoned Bernie and he jumped at the opportunity and we met that very afternoon. He was gracious enough to loan me his priceless photo albums for scanning purposes. You would be hard pressed to find another person happier and more giving of his time to others than this fine Veteran.
Bernard H. Bauerle was born October 21, 1946, by Doctor Gaspard at Physicians and Surgeons Hospital in Glendale, California, though he grew up in North Hollywood. Bernie attended St. Charles Catholic Elementary School and went on to graduate from Bellarmine-Jefferson High School in Burbank on June 19, 1964. It’s noted that retired Navy Admiral Michael G. Mullen, our nation’s 17th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attended elementary school with Bernie. During high school, Bernie began learning a work ethic as a dish washer at a local restaurant. After high school, he took automobile mechanical classes at Los Angeles Trade Technical College for two years where he earned his Associates in Arts Degree.
During the summer of 1966, Bernie received his U.S. Army draft notice but he had no desire to risk his luck in becoming a combat infantry rifleman in Vietnam so he promptly joined the U.S. Navy on September 22, 1966. Bernie had full expectations that he would see the world on big ships far away from combat, plus his neighbor and best buddy to this very day Bill Berney joined the Air Force at that time to also avoid combat in Vietnam. Meanwhile, Bernie took Boot Camp in San Diego and then attended “A School” for six months of training and received the job designation “Shipfitter” (welding and plumbing). Bernie found his assignment terribly disappointing as he thought for sure that he would become a mechanic based on his earlier schooling.
Survival, Evasion, Resistance, & Escape
Once Bernie graduated from A School, all of his fellow sailors except himself received their next assignment orders. He was placed in transit status for a week which meant he had nothing to do but wait, however he was promoted to Petty Officer 3rd Class (E-4). Laughing, Bernie told me that he was next assigned Chow Hall Master of Arms and his primary responsibility was unlocking the doors and taking headcount.
Four months later, he was sent to SERE Training (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) at Coronado Island, which gave Bernie pause since he firmly believed that he would serve on big ships at sea. Following four weeks training at Coronado, Bernie received a two weeks leave of absence to visit his parents and family.
To Bernie’s chagrin, he was next sent to Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino where he took a Boeing 707 flight arriving in Danang, South Vietnam, in September 1968. Upon being promoted to Shipfitter 2nd Class (E-5), he was assigned to a Navy support activity unit and was attached to the 3rd Marine Division. Bernie’s primary responsibility was repairing and maintaining patrol boats with the Small Craft Repair Facility (SCRF) located at the base of Monkey Mountain just outside Danang. Reality had set in as Bernie realized that serving on big ships and seeing the world was not his destiny. Ironically, his lifelong friend Bill Berney who had joined the Air Force to avoid serving in Vietnam’s combat zone was assigned to a radar station at the top of Monkey Mountain. The irony is too rich.
War Zone Duty
Bernie’s duties were tedious repairing river and off shore Navy patrol boats which were often shot up by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong who were also constantly rocketing Bernie’s base camp. Clearly, Bernie served in a dangerous war zone as numerous fellow sailors lost their lives and many were wounded. During Bernie’s two tours of duty at that Danang repair facility, he was periodically sent to other areas for his maintenance and repair expertise. While assigned to a large PBR (Patrol Boat River) barge near Tan My Village, he was required to pull night security watch as the threat enemy swimmers with explosives were a high threat. Bernie said he got a big kick out of tossing concussion hand grenades into the river to ward off the Viet Cong and NVA.
When a Navy destroyer was hit by NVA cannon fire off Danang’s shoreline, Bernie was summoned to repair a large hole right at the ship’s waterline. When Bernie arrived out there he told the officers that in order to conduct repairs, he needed that hole elevated above water so the crew promptly flooded several port side compartments. Bernie was stunned to see that they raised that hole up three feet. While welding at night he starting hearing some strange pinging noises before realizing that NVA soldiers were shooting at him from the shore. Several sailors placed large blankets behind Bernie concealing his welding torch flame and when he finally completed the challenging task, the ship’s Captain and crewmen were enormously delighted.
Of all days, Bernie returned to the U.S.A. on April 1, 1970, which was his most memorable April Fool’s ever. Because Bernie had volunteered for a second tour of duty in Vietnam, he received an “early out” Honorable Discharge and soon he was living back home with his parents and continuing his education via the GI Bill. Meanwhile, Bernie had no clue what his vocation would be. However, coincidentally his best pal, Bill Berney had also returned home from Vietnam and quickly landed a job working for Brock Construction Company, the general contractor that built Magic Mountain. Through Bill’s connections, Bernie became one of the very first Magic Mountain employees and when he retired 42 years later he was known as the last original Magic Mountain employee.
When Bernie Met Frances
Back when Bernie attended Valley College before joining the Navy, he was invited to a party in North Hollywood that was held by a group of female nurses. While minding his own business, a beautiful young nurse named Frances drew near him and said, “You are the most handsome man here. Let’s talk”. Needless to say, Bernie spent the rest of that party with her and they went on to date for the next 18 months. With a smile, Bernie said “I just knew that she would send me a “Dear John Letter” in Vietnam but I never got one.” After his Navy discharge, they resumed dating and finally one day, in early 1971, “Mr. Charming” blurted, “Hey. Ya wanna get married?” Bernie and Frances were married July 10, 1971, which led them to having four wonderful children, including a son named Bill after Bernie’s best buddy. Young Bill joined the Navy at age 19 and served 20 years. Bernie and Frances purchased a small horse ranch in Sylmar where they lived 22 years until Frances abruptly gave up on their marriage which led Bernie to taking custody of his children and sole ownership of their ranch. Bernie later sold that place and in 2006 he bought a home in Saugus where he still lives.
Since retiring from Magic Mountain, Bernie stays busy with travel and caring for his grandchildren.
Proud Vietnam Veteran
What Bernie loves most is working at our local food pantry twice a week and at Wayside’s Honor Ranch twice a week counseling inmates. And yet, he still takes time to periodically volunteer at SCV’s Pregnancy Center and with special needs children at Carousel Ranch. When he can fit it into his busy schedule, Bernie travels to Nicaragua with the Mustard Seed Foundation to assist special needs children. Next to our friend Duane R. Harte, who passed away November 23, 2015, Bernard H. Bauerle is perhaps the most smiling, joyful and charitable gentleman I have ever met and he’s a proud Vietnam Veteran.