Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman will present the Borinqueneers, the 65th Puerto Rican Infantry, with a proclamation of honor today at 2 p.m. in the Hall of Flags at the state Capitol in Hartford, Conn. The 65th Infantry Regiment was completely based, and for the most part, trained in Puerto Rico. Members decided to name themselves “Borinqueneers.” During their service, members of the regiment, which was a segregated unit, endured such indignities as being forced to use separate showering facilities from their non-Hispanic “Continental” officers and ordered not to speak Spanish under penalty of court-martial. The Borinqueneers were originally activated on June 4, 1920, after which the unit participated in World War I, World War II and Korea. Several veterans of the unit will be in attendance Tuesday. A national movement is underway to award the Borinqueneers the Congressional Gold Medal. CTLatinoNews.com is a proud sponsor of this effort.
Similar in nature to the famed Tuskegee Airmen and other segregated U.S. military units, the 65th Infantry Regiment Borinqueneers were the largest, longest-standing and only active-duty segregated Latino military unit in U.S. history. Like the Tuskegee Airmen, Navajo Code Talkers, Nisei Soldiers and Montford Point Marines who have already been recognized with the Congressional Gold Medal, the Borinqueneers overwhelmingly distinguished themselves in battle, all the while enduring the additional hardships of segregation and discrimination.
Hailing from Puerto Rico, the U.S. Army unit was active from 1899-1959. Emblematic of all U.S. military veterans, including the hundreds of thousands of Latino-American veterans, the Borinqueneers served and sacrificed in the cause of freedom with great pride The youngest of these remaining Latino-American heroes are in their 80s and 90s, having served in the Korean War, 60 years ago or more.
A nationwide, nonpartisan, all-volunteer group, the Borinqueneers Congressional Gold Medal Alliance, has been advocating the awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal to these elderly veterans since late last year. Made up of veterans, Latino-Americans and like-minded patriots, the organization has worked closely with members of Congress to facilitate the successful introduction and subsequent support of special bipartisan legislation, which requires co-sponsorship by two-thirds of each chamber for passage.
The House of Representatives bill, introduced this spring by Rep. Pedro Pierluisi, D- Puerto Rico, and Bill Posey, R-Fla., H.R. 1726, currently has 123 of the required 290 co-sponsors. The Senate bill, S. 1174, introduced in June by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., has 18 of the necessary 67 co-sponsors.
The alliance’s national chairman, Frank Medina, a 2002 West Point graduate and Iraqi war combat veteran, is coordinating intense efforts this fall to encourage individuals and organizations to reach out to additional members of Congress to secure their co-sponsorship of the bills.
Here is an excerpt from the bills to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the 65th Infantry Regiment, known as the Borinqueneers:
“(22) Beyond the many hardships endured by most American soldiers in Korea, the Regiment faced unique challenges due to discrimination and prejudice, including–
(A) the humiliation of being ordered to shave their mustaches ‘until such a time as they gave proof of their manhood’;
(B) being forced to use separate showering facilities from their non-Hispanic `Continental’ officers;
(C) being ordered not to speak Spanish under penalty of court-martial;
(D) flawed personnel-rotation policies based on ethnic and organizational prejudices; and
(E) a catastrophic shortage of trained non-commissioned officers.”
During the Korean War, 2,771 Borinqueneers earned Purple Hearts, 750 of them were killed in action, and more than 100 are still missing in action. In addition to the points cited in the bills, the Borinqueneers were forced to wear “I am a coward” signs, ordered to paint over their unit designation “Borinqueneers” on their military vehicles and ordered to discontinue their rations of rice and beans, termed “Creole rations” at the time.
Among the national organizations supporting this important initiative are the League of United Latin American Citizens, Vietnam Veterans of America, American GI Forum, Military Order of the Purple Heart, National Puerto Rican Coalition and National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce.
In an Aug. 23 letter from LULAC to members of Congress, LULAC National President Margaret Moran stated, “It is with great pleasure that LULAC supports the 65th Infantry Regiment in their quest to achieve the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Therefore, we urge you to co-sponsor the pertinent 65th Infantry legislation requesting the auspicious CGM recognition, Congressional bills H.R. 1726 or S. 1174. The Congressional Gold Medal will be the highest award ever for the 65th Infantry Regiment and for ALL Latino Veterans. This distinction will catapult Hispanic veterans into the national spotlight and will honor all Hispanic veterans past, present and future.”
Although comprised mainly of Puerto Ricans, during the Korean War, the Borinqueneers also included some Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, Filipinos, Virgin Islanders and several other nationalities. Interestingly, our nation’s first and only Latino 4-Star Army general, Richard E. Cavazos, a Mexican-American, got his start as a young Borinqueneer officer in Korea. There he earned his first of two Distinguished Service Crosses, our nation’s second-highest honor for individual heroism.
The Borinqueneers are credited with the last battalion-sized bayonet assault in U.S. Army history. In early 1951 while fighting in Korea, two battalions of the 65th fixed bayonets and charged straight up hill toward the enemy, overrunning them and overtaking the enemy’s strategic position. Gen. Douglas MacArthur had high praise for the segregated unit. Also during Korea, the Borinqueneers valiantly defended the rear-guard of the retreating 1st Marine Division in one of the epic military withdrawals of history and were the last ones to board the retreating ships at Hungnam.
Another interesting fact is that only one Congressional Gold Medal has been awarded to a Latino-American in the 237-year history of the national award. That was 40 years ago.
Even though this will be a first for many of us, the alliance is asking everyone to immediately contact your one U.S. House of Representatives member and your two U.S. senators to request their co-sponsorship of the bills that would award the Congressional Gold Medal to the 65th Infantry Regiment Borinqueneers.
Information on how to identify and quickly and easily contact your Congressional representatives via phone calls or their email web forms is available on the Borinqueneers Congressional Gold Medal Alliance website at http://www.Borinqueneers.org.
Borinqueneers Congressional Gold Medal Alliance CONTACTS:
Larry Bystran, Promotions Team Volunteer email@example.com
Frank Medina, National Chair 65thCGM@gmail.com
Information for this article provided in part by Efrain Nieves, Pa’lante