Representatives from the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands honored World War II veteran Don Bertino on April 17 for his role in the liberation of the Dutch people from Nazi oppression. He was one of several surviving veterans from eight allied countries to receive recognition from the Netherlands in advance of Liberation Day to be celebrated on May 5.
The ceremony took place at the Army Airborne and Special Operations Museum where Bertino is a volunteer.
Captain Mark Brouwer, an officer in The Netherlands Marine Corps, presided over the presentation on behalf of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Brouwer is assigned to Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville.
Bertino, 96, is a native of Pennsylvania but came to North Carolina more than 60 years ago. He now lives in Fayetteville with his daughter. Bertino was drafted into the Army in 1943 at the age of 18. He would serve as part of a 90 mm anti-aircraft gun team in locations from Normandy, Belgium to Berlin. After World War II, he was again called into service during the Korean War. Bertino reached the rank of Private First Class during his service in WWII. During the Korean War, Bertino reached the rank of Sergeant.
During his time in the military, Bertino was stationed in several installations from Pennsylvania to Fort Bliss, Texas, then Louisiana and New York before shipping overseas. After his time in the military, he became a bricklayer in his native Pennsylvania, where the weather up north was too cold to lay brick year-round.
“My brother-in-law left Pennsylvania in 1938 to attend Duke University, and in 1959, he told me if I wanted to lay brick 12 months out of the year, the Carolinas were the place to do it,” said Bertino about his work.
During an exchange with Brouwer, Bertino mentioned that, of the seven countries in Europe he’d been to, the Netherlands treated him the best. When asked the worst part of his time in the Netherlands Bertino responded with, “one of Hitler’s bombs on Christmas Day,” recalling a moment from his combat service.
Bertino recalled his first day of service as “fast and furious.”
“They threw us a bag of clothes, dressed us up, and said get on that train,” said Bertino about that day in 1943. This took place in Pennsylvania, and three days later he said he was in El Paso. Though not everyone Bertino served with made it home, he considers himself fortunate. “I was at the right place at the right time. The enemy didn’t get me, I got them.”
Bertino left military service in June of 1952 and continues to encourage younger men and women now serving: “Try and stay in for 20 years if you can,” he says. “Stay in, do a good job, and honor our country.”