At the end of a week, when hopes were raised that the 65-year-old Korean War might officially end, in New Britain a celebration and the spotlight was on the Puerto Rican soldiers whose honor and fidelity helped preserve democracy in South Korea before a tenuous armistice in 1953.
At a small park along Farmington Avenue, scores of dignitaries and several hundred spectators gathered Saturday, April 28 for a “ribbon cutting” ceremony for a new monument to celebrate the courage and sacrifice of the storied 65th Infantry Regiment, a largely volunteer unit drawn from Puerto Rico that fought in two world wars and, most notably, in Korea for the United States.
Nicknamed the Borinqueneers, the regiment was the last segregated U.S. Army military battle group and persevered despite unfair treatment and lack of resources compared to others in the U.S. military.
“They had to do more with less,” said Governor Dannel Malloy, who along with Governor Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico and other speakers, saluted the Borinqueneers. “This unit hit way above its size,” Malloy said, citing the 65th Regiment’s “storied history in wars to protect American freedom.”
Only three Borinqueneers were able to attend the ceremony, Celestino Cordova and Jose Pickard of Connecticut, as well as Raul E. Reyes Castaneira of Florida, but they stood for the more than 61,000 brothers in arms who wore the regiment’s lamb and Maltese cross insignia in Korea.
Before the ceremony, Cordova, who visited Korea last September, said it was “great” that the leaders of North and South Korea had met to discuss an end to decades of tension. “Now that there is peace, I want to go back,” the New Haven resident said,
Reyes said he was “surprised” about the news coming out of Korea, but he also had a low opinion of the North’s dictator, Kim Jong Un, calling him a criminal.
However, politics was not on the program Saturday. This was an occasion devoted to Borinqueneers, their families, New Britain Latino Coalition and its chairman Carmelo Rodriguez, who had championed the project, and the future of hurricane devastated Puerto Rico and its 3.4 million “American” residents.
The need to rebuild Puerto Rico was intertwined with the praise that the island’s governor, Ricardo Rossillo, expressed for the Borinqueneers. He said these soldiers were an inspiration to “do greater things, to think boldly and be innovative.”
Rossello said, “Let’s honor them every day by honoring the principles that they did honor.” The governor said, “It is our time to stand up,” he said of all Puerto Ricans.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal talked about the Borinqueneers receiving a Congressional Medal of Honor last year. He said The Puerto Rican troops earned hundreds of war-time medals, received more than 1,000 Purple Hearts, and launched the last bayonet charge in U.S. history.
At the ceremony, Blumenthal present a gold medal to the family of Manuel Jimenez, a member of the regiment during World War I. “This is only a token of the honor of what this nation owes to them,” he said.
Gazing at the large and diverse crowd that attended the ceremony, Blumenthal said, “This is what America really looks like.”
New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart praised the work of the New Britain Latino Coalition over the last seven years that lead to the erection of monument “A tireless group of dedicated individuals, especially chairman Carmelo Rodriguez, did the hard work making this come to life,” the mayor said.
Rodriguez thanked Stewart for backing the project. “You made a promise and you did it,” he said.
Wanda Rentas a member of the national Borinqueneers Gold Medal Committee, presented the mayor with two copies of the medal, one for herself and one to display at City Hall.
Rentas, a former New Britain resident and now a city commissioner and vice mayor in Kissimmee, Florida, also gave Rodriquez a pin featuring the medal.
State Sen. Robert Sanchez of New Britain recounted the history of the effort to erect a monument in Connecticut to the Borinqueneers, and how Pickard and Cordova were among those who got him involved in the project seven years ago. He also thanked the late state Rep. Betty Boukus for helping him arrange a crucial $300,000 state grant, and expressed gratitude to Malloy for his support.
Other speakers included Jenniffer Aydin González Colón, the resident commissioner who represents Puerto Rico in Congress but cannot vote, and commonwealth Senator Abel Nazario Quiñones. Attendees included members of the city’s common council, several state representatives and senators, including the entire New Britain delegation, Council member Miguel Castro of Meriden and other local leaders. Rodriguez also said the state Supreme Court and the federal housing department were represented.
Two other Borinqueneers were invited but could not attend due to infirmness, Rodriguez said, but will receive their citations at home from a delegation from the Latino Coalition.
Rodriquez also recognized the efforts of Danny Garcia, a Marine veteran who was one of the monument’s original advocates, but has moved to Florida due to his employment. Garcia, Rodriquez quoted, said the monument represented the vision of a few and the labor of many.
While the ceremony featured the playing of anthems, awarding of citations to Borinqueneers and their families and the intermittent chants from several dozen members of the Borinqueneer Motorcycle Club, one planned event was missing: the actual cutting of a ribbon. Rodriguez said this activity became impractical, as the crowd began to disassemble by the end of the two-hour program.
Instead, the proceeding concluded with the gathering of all veterans in front of the monument for a prayer.
Additional Photos of New Britain “Borinqueneers” Monument Dedication