When a long-awaited monument to the 65th Infantry Regiment, known as the Borinqueneers, becomes a reality this fall in New Britain it will not just salute the highly decorated fighting unit, but will also honor their Puerto Rican heritage.
The Puerto Rican heritage of the regiment will be recognized and celebrated in the edifice’s design with architectural flourishes that evoke the island’s history and culture and with the Puerto Rican flag flying next to this nation’s banner above the structure.
Five years in the making, a groundbreaking ceremony for the monument was held on August 5th. The plan is for the Borinqueneers monument to be completed in time for its dedication on Oct. 7, guaranteed New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart. The hope is that the state’s few surviving members of the Borinqueneers who served in the Korean War will be present.
The profile of the arch-shaped monument includes the iconic garitas, the domed lookout towers of El Morro, the 16th century fortress that guarded historic San Juan and have become the symbol of the island. The four mini-turrets will also serve a practical purpose by housing lighting for the site.
The size of the cement structure will be impressive. The center panel will be 12 feet high and 14 feet wide. The side panels will be eight feet high and 12.5 feet wide. The approach to the monument will feature a large black soldier’s star from the regiment’s insignia. Everything will be built on site.
When completed, the monument will be the centerpiece of a memorial park honoring the 65th Infantry Regiment at the intersection of Beaver Street, Washington Street, and Farmington Avenue. The city acquired the grassy parcel from the state a few years ago and already has dedicated the site as a memorial park of the Borinqueneers.
As the largest U.S. monument to the 65th Regiment, the New Britain park is expected to attract visitors from throughout the state and beyond to view images depicting the unit’s service to the United States. In April 2016, President Obama presented the 65th Infantry Regiment with the Congressional Gold Medal that had been authorized two years earlier.
The New Britain groundbreaking ceremony brought together several dozen people, including several local and state officials. The salient message, as the dignitaries jabbed shovels into soil, was this was a big day, long overdue, not only to recognize the 65th Infantry Regiment, but also to recognize the military service of Connecticut’s many Puerto Ricans.
“To my uncles who fought, who are watching in Heaven, this is for you,” said state Rep. Robert Sanchez, who led a successful campaign for state support highlighted by a $300,000 allocation from the Bonding Commission.
“This is a dream come true,” said Carmelo Rodriguez Jr., a veteran and president of the New Britain Latino Coalition, the local organization which spearheads the local monument drive.
“The Borinqueneers had waited many years and we had promised them we would get it done. Now, it is getting done,” said Rodriquez who was a member of the local committee that worked with city officials on the project.
“This is momentous,” said Alderman Kristian Rosado, whose father served in the Marine Corps for 21 years. Rosado, who runs for office in the unaffiliated column, said the monument project received bipartisan support, with Sanchez and others being Democrats while Rodriquez and the mayor are Republicans.
Both Sanchez and Rodriquez made a point of mentioning that they received support from Bette Boukus, the former state representative who died shortly after losing her re-election campaign to Dr. William Petit last November.
The groundbreaking ceremony was attended by U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, state Secretary of State Denise Merrill, as well as state Senator Terry Gerratana of New Britain and state representatives Sanchez, Hilda Santiago of Meriden, Geraldo Reyes of Waterbury and Dr. Petit of Plainville/New Britain. Several members of the New Britain Board of Alders participated including Willie Pabon and Rosado.
In addition, several members of the Borinqueneers 65th Regiment Motor Cycle Club were present. These men, who come from throughout the region, served as an unofficial honor guard, wear the regiments to Honor et Fidelitas, on their jackets.
A regional group, the 65th Infantry Regiment Society lead by Danny Garcia, started the Borinquenees project about five years ago. In 2016, the project was handed over to the Latino Coalition and Rodriquez, while Sanchez carried the ball at the state level and several Hispanic members of the Board of Alders revved up city involvement.
The Latino Coalition has been working with a the city’s monument subcommittee, which consists of Rep. Sanchez, Rosado, Aldermen Manny Sanchez and Willie Pabon, Veterans Commission Chair Peter Scirpo, Parks and Recreation Chair Matthew Cannata and Mayor Stewart. Richard Reyes is the subcommittee chair.
The final design for the monument was approved by the city’s veterans, Rodriguez said.
The San Juan imagery links the monument to the island’s capital city which was the home of many of the volunteers who comprised the initial island-based battalion created by Congress in 1899. With men from other Puerto Rico towns and cities joining to the ranks, this unit quickly gained regiment status. The soldiers adopted the nickname Borinqueneers in recognition of the name, Borinquen, native American Tainos gave the island.
The 65th Infantry Regiment served in World Wars I and II and fought in some of the fiercest battles of the Korean War.
“This monument is long overdue,” said Miguel Torruella, a Vietnam War veteran from Hartford. “It took 60 years too long. It should have been done when most of the soldiers were alive,” he said, “Only a few are left.”