By Barbara Thomas
U.S. Army Capt. RES. Frank Medina, 34, is too young to have fought with the 65th Infantry Regiment. Nonetheless, it’s his mission to secure the Congressional Gold Medal for members of the regiment, better known as the Borinqueneers.
The 65th Infantry Regiment is the largest and longest-standing segregated military unit in U.S. history, having fought in WWI, WWII, and the Korean War. More than 20,000 men from Puerto Rico – mostly Hispanic but not all – served with the unit. Many of them earned awards, but none have received the distinguished Congressional Gold Medal.
Medina, who now works for the U.S. Navy as a systems engineer working on simulated training devices for aircraft, aims to change that.
Born in Puerto Rico, Medina grew up in Bridgeport, Conn., and now lives in Orlando, Fla., with his family. He graduated from West Point and went on to serve in the Iraq war. With his close personal ties to the military, he put together a group of supporters and kicked off a campaign last year. He now serves as national chair of the Borinqueneers Congressional Gold Medal Alliance Steering Committee.
“I facilitate the committee’s outreach to our elected officials to get them to co-sponsor the necessary legislation,” Medina said. “I coordinate and direct all efforts of the committee while lifting up a groundswell of public support.”
“The Borinqueneers performed admirably under adverse circumstances of discrimination and indignity. Their pinnacle achievement, during the Korean War, was the last recorded bayonet assault in U.S. Army history.”
He noted that the Congressional Gold Medal has been awarded to other minority veterans who served in segregated military units, including the Native American Navajo Code Talkers, the African-American Tuskeegee Airmen, and the Japanese-American Nisei.
One reason Medina decided to spearhead the effort is that his late grandfather was a Borinqueneer. Also, he was inspired by a man he met at a recognition ceremony where a Congressional Gold Medal was handed out.
“How do I get one?” asked the man, a Borinqueneer.
To begin the campaign, Medina met with Borinqueneers and recruited others interested in being part of the alliance, which is a nationwide non-partisan, all-volunteer group of individuals, veterans groups, military supporters, and Latino-American organizations. Then the coalition mobilized, contacting legislators to have bills introduced in Congress.
“We’ve reached two milestones in having bills introduced in both houses,” Medina said. “Both pieces of legislation were necessary.”
On April 25, HR 1726 was introduced in the House by Rep. Bill Posey of Florida and Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s representative.
In the Senate, Bill S 1174 was introduced and sponsored by Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). The first co-sponsor to sign was Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Other senators who have co-sponsored include Robert Casey Jr. (D-PA), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Charles Schumer (D-NY)
“We’re on our way but we need the necessary number of co-sponsors – 290 in the House and 67 in the Senate,” Medina said.
To date, they have received the eight Senate sponsors and 51 in the House.
“We need everyone around the United States to contact their elected representatives and senators and tell them to support the companion bills,” Medina said. “We don’t want to run the risk of this spilling over to the next legislative session. If we don’t get enough co-sponsors, we’ll have to start over in the next session with zero sponsors.”
He is happy to report receipt of an endorsement letter from the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH) organization, the first major endorsement from a Congressionally-Chartered Veterans Service Organization (VSO) and what he calls a critical step.
Medina has been busy traveling around the country to elicit support. His most recent trip to California was fruitful, he said, and his next stop is Denver.
“We were able to visit the district Congressional offices of Rep. Maxine Waters, Rep. Judy Chu, and Rep. Linda Sanchez,” he said. “I also attended the American GI Forum California State Conference where they adopted a resolution to support the 65th Inf. CGM legislation, and I had an opportunity to present the initiative to the audience.”
In addition to securing the Congressional Gold Medal for the Borinqueneers, Medina is on a mission to change the future for all Latino-Americans. He hopes that the 65th Regiment’s recognition will serve as a springboard.
“I want to offset the negative image of Latinos,” he said. “This will be a gateway for all Latino veterans and will bring our issues into the limelight.”
Americans wishing to help the alliance should write to or e-mail their two U.S. Senators and one U.S. House of Representatives member and ask for their support. For a sample letter and more information, visit http://www.65thcgm.org/