James Beere awarded Bronze Star

By Todd R. Brown

Marine reservist James Beere was on a sweep for enemy mortar positions in Iraq when he came across two insurgents armed with rocket launchers.

"I kind of looked at them, they kind of looked at me," the San Bruno-based staff sergeant said. "I was kind of, like, not expecting to see them that open and obvious. I guess they're not expecting to see me, either."

The insurgents took cover behind a building and a machine gunner, and another fighter with an AK-47 opened up on the lone Marine.

"The rounds were impacting all around me," Beere said. "I kind of fell, and an AK round hit a rock. The rock shattered into my hand."

Undaunted, Beere managed to shootthe two riflemen and was joined by an American machine gun team as a hail of small arms fire whizzed toward them. Eventually, the U.S. forces won the battle.

Beere, who is stationed at the Marine Corps Reserve Training Center near the Tanforan mall, was awarded the Bronze Star with a Combat V, for valor, on Sunday at the drill center.

The commendation is for several incidents of heroism during the months he spent in 2004-05 fighting in Fallujah and elsewhere in western Iraq, including serving as an assault section leader and finding and disarming roadside bombs.

"I've been to other deployments, but that was my first combat," said Beere, a 14-year reservist. He added: "I don't think it's right leaving there until the job is done. I just hope that we don't leave there and leave the Iraqi people hanging."

The 32-year-old fights the good fight at home as well as abroad. Beere is a 10-year veteran of the Oakland Police Department, working undercover on human trafficking and child exploitation cases and doing drug stings.

He said his combat service helps him in his police work.

"It just makes you be more aware of what's going on around you," he said. "I try to learn from all the experiences I can."

Despite his gritty wartime days and his job dealing with seamy characters, Beere seemed upbeat about his work.

"You get to put some bad guys away," he said. "If someone doesn't do it, they're still out there."

He also has a young family to take care of. Beere has two children with his 33-year-old wife, Raquel, one of them a newborn. After his ordeal abroad, he said he's happy to be back to raise his children. He unwinds in his rare free time by riding his Harley-Davidson and camping in Northern California.

"(The ordeal affected) my wife, my kids, my mom and dad," he said. "Even though I'm the one over there, they're the ones that hurt, too."

Raquel Beere, who was pregnant with their first child while her husband was in Iraq, said the hardest part was "getting those phone calls at 4 or 5 in the morning telling me he was shot, my husband was blown up."

She added, "I thank God everyday that he brought him back alive and OK."

Major Ted Wong, Beere's commanding officer in the contingent of the 23rd Marine Regiment based in San Bruno, said he's worked with the Bronze Star winner since about 1994. He said just four other active Marines headquartered there share the honor.

Beere and Wong were at Camp Parks Reserve Forces Training Area all day Friday in Dublin to train about 30 reservists who soon will head to the thick of the fight.

"Everything I expect from him is always delivered on time and in a professional manner, and well beyond my expectations," Wong said of Beere.

A 22-year reservist, Wong spent time in Iraq in 2005-06 but said he hasn't swapped many war stories with Beere.

"We all know what we do. We don't sit around and brag about our accomplishments," said Wong, 41, who grew up in Petaluma. "We try to keep it to good, happy, funny stories."

Beere was born in San Francisco but moved shortly afterward to Ireland, where his parents are from, until age 9, when they returned to the U.S. He said it was while living in Port Laoise (pronounced leash) that he was inspired to serve.

"He went to Dublin with his dad, to the American Embassy," said 60-year-old Mary Beere, James' mother. "I believe there was a Marine standing outside. He asked his dad, 'Who was that guy?' He told him, 'That was a United States Marine, America's finest.' We're very proud of Jimmy. He's a busy young man."

Beere was proud of his service, too.

"We did a lot of good for the Iraqi people," he said. "Even though I was in the Anbar province, which was supposed to be the most volatile area, they seemed for the most part to accept us. The children loved us."

He showed little support for the Democrats' push to set a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops.

"A lot of the people who are fighting over there aren't Iraqis themselves. They're Syrians, Iranians, Jordanians, people from other countries that came to fight us," he said. "I think a lot of people have forgotten about 9/11. It's better to fight them in their own backyard than in America."


Copyright ©2007 San Mateo County Times. Published 03/12/2007.