Manuel M. Bertoldo, age 89, of Safford Arizona went to be with the Lord April 30, 2021, with his family and caregiver at his side.
Manuel was born in Solomon, Arizona on June 2, 1931. He and his nine siblings grew up at their dad’s farm in San Jose.
After graduating from Safford High School in 1949, he worked several jobs. A local five and dime, Bellman’s Men’s Clothing Store and Sear’s Robuck. When he found out he had a high draft number for the Korean war, he decided to enlist in the Air Force, after learning the sad fate of several young men from Morenci who had served in the US Army.
His first assignment was as he put it "in some Podunk town in the boondocks of northern Texas". While there he learned that due to the Air force's wish to build up the Strategic Air Command. They waived the college degree requirements for the pilot's and navigator's entrance exam. And as he put it he thought he could not pass the pilots test, or as he told another retired Air Force veteran, his wife "did not want him to fly". He took and passed the navigator’s test and his life changed forever, from being a Korean war draft dodger to making a 22 year career in the Air Force.
He married his beloved wife, Dolores (Ornelas) also from Solomon in 1954.
After graduating from Officer Training school, Manuel was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant as a radar navigator in the Air Force's medium strategic bomber the B-47 and was stationed for 5 years at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson Arizona. His crew entered the Strategic Air Command's bombing, navigation and air refueling competition in 1959. The 43rd bomb Wing placed 5th out of the 47 Wings entered, but Manuel individually placed 2nd and was given a spot promotion to Captain as he transitioned to the Air Force's heavy strategic bomber the B-52, as a Radar Navigator for the rest of his 22 year career.
In Tucson he became the proud parent to Manuel Jon, Michael and Johanna.
He was stationed at Biggs Air Force base in El Paso, Texas for 5 years most notably during the Cuban missile crisis, where he said "that was the closest time while serving that he thought we would enter into a nuclear war with Russia".
As the Air Force cut bases to save money, he was then stationed for 2 years at Walker A.F.B. in Roswell, New Mexico, where he was commissioned to the rank of Major.
The squadron was then transferred for one year, from winter to winter to Dow A.F.B. in Bangor, Maine.
His final 4 year station assignment would be to Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport Louisiana, the headquarters of the Second Air Force Bomb Wing, where he served 1 combat tour in Vietnam.
After 20 years of service Manuel retired in 1972 at the rank of Major including Presidential Executive Orders that awarded him three Air Medal/Second Oak Leaf Clusters for meritorious achievements.
The family then returned to their beloved hometown in Safford, Arizona. Manuel graduated from Eastern Arizona College and attended the University of Arizona Business college, majoring in Accounting, accomplishing his lifetime goal of a college education. (Manuel was forever an avid Arizona Wildcats fan).
He held various management positions throughout Safford. He worked at the State Employment Office, he managed the credit union now known as the OneAz Credit Union and was the office manager for Dr Forgach.
He and his wife purchased the Mi Casa Tortilla Factory in 1990, where with his strong work ethic, went from gross annual sales of $80,000 to a high of almost $800,000, where the business was renowned for the quality of their flour and corn tortillas. Though he loved the “factory”, after 27 years Manuel finally agreed to sell the business and retired for the second time in 2012 at the age of 81.
He was proud of his 22 years service in the Air Force and very proud of having run a very successful tortilla business.
One of his family's favorite experiences was their year at Bangor Maine, where they enjoyed the ice and snow, taking a trip to see the Expo 67 in Montreal, Canada and enjoying lobster feasts after, the kids watched the lobsters race across the kitchen floor, before they were cooked. It was truly a year's vacation.
During the move to Louisiana, a mini vacation road trip included stops in New York City, Washington D.C. and Charleston, South Carolina to see all the sights, memorials and historic places.
Most of all Manuel enjoyed the company of family and friends. The huge family reunion back in the 70’s was always a favorite memory. Every occasion to get together grew even more important as he aged in life.
Manuel was preceded in death by: his parents, Pedro and Rosenda; his brothers, Johnny, Arturo, and Pete; his sisters, Lupe (Sanchez), Priscilla (Avila) and Celia (De Leon) and most recently, last week Rosie (Garcia).
He is survived by: sisters, Irene (Ferguson) and Silvia (Blake); his wife, Dolores; sons, Manuel and Michael; and daughter, Johanna (Bertoldo-Starner); 2 grandchildren, 2 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
Manuel generously supported many national and local charities. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, please donate to a local charity of your choice.
Open casket viewing is Tuesday night, May 11th at Vining Funeral Home, from 6 to 8pm. On Wednesday, May 12th, the Rosary (10am) and Mass (11am) will be held at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Solomon. Shaded overflow seating will be provided in the adjacent patio. Those services will be closed casket.
Interment will be at Safford Union Cemetery following Mass. Reception will be held at the Safford American Legion.
Those who would like to attend the services via Facebook Live can join on Vining Funeral Home's Facebook page, Wednesday morning, May 12, 2021, at 10:00 a.m. (MDT)