Hector Rivera stills remembers as a young solider, when he and others serving in the segregated 65th Infantry based in Puerto Rico felt the U.S. military didn’t think they were important. The 80 year old Hartford resident now says, “It was negative, but we kept fighting in the war, we were proud.”
Rivera and four other Connecticut residents who fought in WWII and the Korean War, were among the more than 100 dignitaries, veterans and their families who attended the first Veterans Day ceremony at the future site of the Borinqueneers Memorial Park and Monument – which organizers say is the first of its kind.
Those who served in the 65th Infantry – which saw active duty in WWI, WWII and Korea before it was disbanded – faced discrimination on many levels. They could not use all military facilities, they were told not to speak Spanish and although fighting for the U.S., the soldiers, as residents of Puerto Rico could not vote in U.S. elections.
In spite of the discrimination they persevered, fighting in some of the fiercest battles in all three wars. To demonstrate their pride, they nicknamed themselves the “Borinqueneers”, based on the name – Borinquen – given to the island by its original inhabitants, the Taino Indians.
In recent years, the 65th has increasingly received more recognition for its service. Organizers of Monday’s event and the Borinqueneers Memorial Park say it will be the first of its kind in the U.S. they say they have already received wide spread support and encouragement from around the country and plan to announce more details on the site in the near future.
Nationally, a bi-partisan coalition of volunteers has been working to have the Borinqueneers awarded the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor as a unit, similar to the recognition given to the Tuskegee Airmen and the Navajo Code Talkers.
Over the years a number of tributes, monuments and memorials have been created to honor the Borinqueneers – among them:
- The formation of the 65th Infantry Veterans Association.
- A plague on the entrance to “El Morro” in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
- A plague in Arlington National Cemetery.
- A monument in Boston in memory of the 65th who died.
In New Britain,organizers hope to create a site that will not only serve as a tribute to the Borinqueneers, but also as a focal point for teaching young Puerto Rican children about a part of their history, as well as serving as an educational tool for all.
More photos from the event: