By Wayne Jebian
The push by Latino veterans to have the U.S. Congress award a gold medal to the Borinqueneers, the 65th Infantry Regiment of the United States Army, has received a major boost from the state Capitol when Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman throwing her support behind the effort.
“I think this is way overdue,” she told CTLatinoNews.
The lieutenant governor recently met with three Latino veterans and one of their staunchest civilian backers, state Rep. Edwin Vargas, from Hartford’s south end.
Wyman reverently cited the Borinqueneers’ statistics.
“This regiment has 10 distinguished service crosses, 256 silver stars, 606 bronze stars, and about 2700 purple hearts for their service in Korea alone,” she said. The regiment was founded as a Puerto Rican unit in 1901 and also fought in World War I and World War II. More recently, parts of the unit have been stationed in Somalia as part of the War on Terror.
“These are the people that made our country safe,” Wyman said.
“I had an uncle who was killed in Korea. This has affected the families and loved ones of the soldiers, so this recognition is not only symbolic,” said Vargas. He and Wyman both believe the Congressional Gold Medal would raise the Borinqueneers’ profile decisively, giving them their proper place in the history books.
“They have not really been recognized for the things they have done. When I was told about it, I thought, ‘We’ve got to do something’,” Wyman said.
“The gold medal itself is put on display in the Smithsonian Institution for people to observe, and the history of the 65th Infantry would be kept there as well, to stay on display,” explained Sgt. First Class Carmelo Figueroa, of Hartford, who has been rallying political leaders to the Borinqueneers’ cause.
“We started this effort back 2012, and we managed to recruit our senators (Murphy and Blumenthal). They were the first ones to co-sponsor the bill in the U.S. Senate,” Figueroa continued. In the U.S. House of Representatives, the bill got introduced on April 25th by the Representative fromPuerto Rico, Pedro Perluisi, along with the Rep. from Florida, Bill Posey.
Figueroa described how Wyman was brought on board this past summer:
“Nancy Wyman came on the show ‘La Puertorriqueñisima,’ which is on 1120 AM, the radio station. Felix Viera often does shows about veterans. As you know, the lieutenant governor is very pro-veteran, and we appreciate that a lot. So one of our veterans, Joe Picard, took her to task and said, ‘would you sign a proclamation on behalf of this effort.’ And Nancy Wyman, live on the radio said, ‘Yes. I would. I will support this.'”
Wyman intends to go back on Felix Viera’s show on 2 and read a formal proclamation of support, urging Congress to act without delay. “It’s time for Washington to understand what is needed. We know our Latino community is growing now, but most people don’t know about the contributions of the Latino community that have been going on for decades. It’s always been a quiet kind of situation, and it’s time now to say, ‘Thank you.’ We’re finally learning to welcome home our veterans.”
Next to Wyman quietly sat retired Staff Sgt. Dolores Nieves, an original Borinqueneer from the Korean War. He told CTLatinoNews that in the 60 years since that war ended, he always retained his faith that he and his comrades would receive full recognition.
Siting next to Nieves was Marine Private First Class Miguel Torruella, whose uncle was in the 65th Engineering Division. He said, “I think it’s about time for the people who served to receive that medal. It was no game. And they broke ground; if it weren’t for them, I might not be here today. Right now they’re 70, 80 years old, and they’re not going to be around too long. I think this is way overdue.”