By Sam Rodriguez
Borinqueneers CGM Alliance
(Editor’s Note: In July, CTLatinoNews.com, MassLatinoNews.com and RILatinoNews.com launched a campaign to assist the 65th Gold Medal Alliance with their national efforts to have the legendary Boriqueneers, the segregated military unit from Puerto Rico, awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. As part of our effort, we have dedicated a special section on the Borinqueneers where we will keep our readers up to date on their lobbying efforts, what you can do to help them and features on the many people involved.)
On July 27 the 60th Anniversary of the cease fire in Korea was celebrated. Most people refer to the Korean War as the forgotten war. President Obama declared in his own words that a great nation would never forget sacrifices of Korean veterans. He also briefly mentioned African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and Native Americans in recognition of President Truman’s executive order ending segregation in the military in 1948.
That executive order took some years to implement though; the Korean War itself is an example of it because in 1950 when the Korean War broke out many units fought during most of the conflict as a segregated force. During the military segregation era the only regular active duty United States Army combat-arms ready unit of “Latinos” was the 65th Infantry Regiment. The 65th was mostly made-up, completely based, and for the most part trained in Puerto Rico.
Even Puerto Ricans and Mexican-American living on the mainland during the Korean War were drafted, trained, and assigned to the 65th Infantry Regiment towards the end of the Korean War. The 65th Infantry Regiment was activated on June 4th 1920 and the unit participated in World War One, World War Two, and Korea.
In reality, when President Obama mentioned “Latinos” who were those Latinos? Were they Latino-Americans? Hispanic-Americans? Puerto Rican-Americans? Or just Americans from Puerto Rico? After all, the Jones-Shafroth Act of 1917 made all people from Puerto Rico United States Citizens so in effect they were by all means Americans.
The soldiers of the 65th were treated and categorized the same way other minority of persons of color soldiers of that time in our military history.
We will never forget the pain and humiliation those soldiers suffered when black Puerto Ricans separated by the color of their skin. This was a human-right abuse and thanks to wisdom of President Truman for beginning to process of ending segregation of our military.
Soldiers of the 65th Infantry Regiment on their way to Korea decided to name themselves “BORINQUENEERS” this was to highlight the fact that the soldiers were mainly from Borinquen. Borinquen is the native indigenous name of the Puerto Rico. TODAY, all the segregated active units that participated in all the conflicts prior to President Truman’s order have all been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal (CGM) EXCEPT the BORINQUENEERS. This racial and ethnic inequality needs to be fixed TODAY, not tomorrow or next year.
The CGM is awarded by Congress; we need the CGM to be awarded to our “Latino” veterans because they deserve it and some dying un-recognized for their sacrifices to our great nation. Yet 60 years after this anniversary the BORINQUENEERS are on the sidelines wondering why? Why have they not been awarded the CGM?
They served and some were younger than 18 yet joined anyway. They fought, some never came back from Korea, and the ones still alive are waiting to be awarded the CGM for their sacrifice and service.
This year, thanks to the relentless efforts of the 65th Congressional Gold Medal Alliance and congressional leaders introduced legislation in both houses (H.R. 1726 and S. 1174) by members of both parties. Today, H.R. 1726 has 84 co-sponsors and 206 are still needed.
By Sam Rodriguez