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thedrifter
03-09-04, 11:48 AM
Veterans, active duty lose 'guardian angel'
March 09,2004
TIMMI TOLER
DAILY NEWS STAFF

Charlita Covington believes the city of Jacksonville has lost a guardian angel.

Mike Bertini, 51, died in his Jacksonville home on Feb. 21, due to a massive heart attack. His passing has left the community without a "great friend" and veterans without one of their strongest voices.

"He was truly a guardian angel for these veterans and for the active duty. That was his key mission," said Covington. "He spoke up when something was wrong. He didn't keep quiet."

Charlita's father, Staff Sgt. Charlie Martin, was Bertini's best friend. After Martin was killed during the Beirut bombing of 1983, Bertini vowed to take care of Martin's family - his wife, Pacita; his son, Renerio; and Covington.

"He was like my brother. When my husband was alive, he would always come to the house, he was just like family," said Pacita, who chose to remain in Jacksonville and raise her family after Charlie's death.

Bertini, originally from New York, retired at Camp Pendleton in 1995 after 23 years of service in the Marine Corps. But he moved to Jacksonville to be near his adopted family.

"He took care of us, whenever we needed anything, he would always give it. He was a second father to my son and daughter," added Pacita. "He was a good man."

"He gave us true guidance," said Covington. "He checked up on us every day, made sure we were doing our chores, listening to mom and doing what we were supposed to do. If not, he'd get on us. We called him 'Uncle Mike,' but he was just like a dad."

Bertini is survived by a twin sister Julie Ettl, who lives in South Bend, Ind., (Ettl is currently traveling to Jacksonville), but Covington says Bertini's family was as big as the Marine Corps itself.

"He always looked out for the Marines. Whether it was the reservists, veterans, active duty or their families, it didn't matter. If something was wrong … if he felt they weren't getting what they were supposed to, he spoke out for them," she said.

Many may remember the reserved Vietnam, Beirut and Gulf War veteran, whose long hair made him a bit of a stand out in a town of military buzz cuts.

"That was the first thing he did when he retired from the Marine Corps - grew his hair," said Covington. "That was his freedom."

Bertini was a frequent visitor to the USO of North Carolina.

"He was a great friend to the USO," said Judy Pitchford, executive director. She remembers the time the USO was in need of a new stove, a fact that she mentioned in passing to Bertini.

"The next thing I knew, Sears showed up delivering this beautiful brand new stove," said Pitchford. "It was from Mike. That's just how he was, anything our service members needed, he wanted to help."

Most weekdays, Bertini could be found in the USO's computer room searching for names of fellow veterans - specifically those Marines who were stationed at the American Embassy in Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City) as security guards.

Bertini was one himself from 1973 to 1975.

"That was part of his daily routine," said Pacita. "He always talked about the veterans; he was always looking for them."

It was a task that Bertini pledged himself to in 1996 after attending his first reunion of the Vietnam Veterans of the United States Marines Security Guards for the U.S. Embassy and Consulates. He sat at a table, conversing with other veterans, who all wondered what became of their fellow comrades. Names would pop up during the conversation, and Bertini began jotting them down on a cocktail napkin deciding then to try and find them.

For the next eight years, Bertini would search the Internet, send letters, make phone calls and read and place ads in military publications looking for names, tips or any clue that may lead to contact information for those on the list. By 2002, that list had grown to more than 100 names - Bertini had found about a third of them.

Covington wants the people to know about Bertini's list and hopes that someone will continue the search in his place.

"Ultimately it was about his respect for the military - looking out for them was his goal. The public needs to realize what he did and that he donated a lot of his time," she said. "We now need to step up and make sure that goal continues."

Evidence of Bertini's work can be found on message boards at various veteran association Web sites. Marines mention him by name, thanking him for taking the time to find them and get them back in touch with their fellow Devil Dogs. Bertini was in the middle of helping organize a reunion for the Fall of Saigon Marines, scheduled for later this year, when his untimely death occurred.

"He was always searching for names, seeking out Marines that he knew and beyond. He wanted to make sure that people didn't forget," said Covington. "For him, it was 'We're here. Just because we're retired, don't forget about us.'"

Bertini kept his commitments even though he was facing a huge battle of his own -cancer. He was undergoing treatments in New Bern but had missed two appointments. Medical personnel at the treatment facility were concerned and alerted the Jacksonville Police, who discovered Bertini's body.

Covington said he kept his suffering to himself, so much so, that she and her family were not even sure when he was diagnosed with the disease.

"He never let us know what was going on," she said. "We could tell he was sick from the weight he had lost, but he didn't talk about it. But he was tired, it took a toll on him."

Covington - who is married to a Marine, Gunnery Sgt. Willie Covington, a drill instructor stationed in California - is seven months pregnant with her first child. She regrets that Bertini will not get a chance to meet the new addition to the family.

"We were already calling him 'Grandpa Uncle Mike,'" said Covington.

And although she feels he was a guardian angel for many during his lifetime, she hopes he is not in that role now.

"I want him to be at rest," she said. "He fought so many battles for people for years. Now, he needs to be at peace."


A memorial service for Mike Bertini will be held Friday at noon in the Coastal Carolina Veterans Cemetary, located on highway. A reception will follow at the USO; family and friends are invited. Jones Funeral Home is handling memorial arrangements. For information, call 455-1281.


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Sempers,

Roger
:marine:

Rest In Peace Marine