The last surviving World War Two veteran who served in one of the most highly regarded North Dakota National Guard units passed away Saturday. Thursday, 96-year-old Doug Burtell’s life and legacy were honored during his burial at the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery.
“Once they’re gone, they’ll be remembered forever. Doug was quite a guy,” President of the 164th Infantry Association Vern Fetch said.
Burtell joined the National Guard when he was just 16 as an original member of the 164th Infantry Regiment, a unit that holds a special place in history.
“They were the first American troops to engage the enemy offensively. They landed in Guadalcanal in October 1942,” Fetch said.
Burtell’s family gathered at the cemetery Thursday for a small ceremony to honor their hero. Granddaughter Jill Vallejo says she’ll always remember his strong work ethic, sense of fun, and his service to the country.
“It’s a special day. I shared before, I’m not surprised that he was the last veteran, knowing that he served the country at a very young age. Anytime you have a funeral or lay someone to rest, people always wonder, ‘Did I make an impact?’ or ‘What did I mean to other people?’ but a soldier never has to wonder if they made a difference,” Vallejo said.
His legacy lives on beyond the memories of his family — much of Burtell’s artwork depicting the war is still around. One sketch is etched into the granite memorial at the Veteran’s Cemetery, and another is on a coin that Maj. Gen. Al Dohrmann uses to recognize soldiers.
“He’s part of a legacy, so it’s tough to see those people go,” Fetch said.
“People would ask him, ‘How did you live this long?’ and he’d say ‘Just keep moving.’ I would say that our family is that way. Keep moving, have a good time, enjoy life and make the most of everything,” Vallejo said.
Burtell was one of 1,723 Soldiers of the 164th Infantry Regiment that mobilized in 1941, and the last one remaining in North Dakota.