By Barbara Thomas
CT Latino News
(Editor’s Note: In July, CTLatinoNews.com, MassLatinoNews.com and RILatinoNews.com launched a campaign to assist the 65th Gold Medal Alliance with their national efforts to have the legendary Boriqueneers, the segregated military unit from Puerto Rico, awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. As part of our effort, we have dedicated a special section on the Borinqueneers where we will keep our readers up to date on their lobbying efforts, what you can do to help them and features on the many people involved. Today, a Waterbury, CT man whose dedication to this effort is especially notable.)
It was 1963 when Waterbury native Frank Crose served with the U.S. Army Reserves in Puerto Rico. He was the sole mainland-born American in a unit of islanders, and his comrades were Korean War vets who told him stories of the battles they had fought.
Fast forward 50 years to 2013, and Crose, 69, is on a mission that relates back to those veterans. It began earlier this year when he read an article about the 65th Infantry Regiment, “the Borinqueneers” from Puerto Rico, the only segregated Hispanic unit in U.S. military history.
Crose learned that the men in the 65th Regiment played prominent roles in three wars – World War I, World War II, and Korea – but none of them have received the distinguished Congressional Gold Medal. An alliance was formed last year to secure the medal for the regiment’s veterans, he discovered. He immediately decided to be part of the effort and wrote to Frank Medina, national chair of the Borinqueneers Congressional Gold Medal Alliance Steering Committee.
“I realized that the guys I served with were the Borinqueneers,” Crose said. “My mission in life now is to see them get the medal, and we need to do this as soon as possible because they are getting older.”
Having heard their war stories, he knows that they fought valiantly in the Korean War. One example – the Borinqueneers are credited with the last battalion-sized bayonet assault in U.S. Army history, having charged straight uphill toward the enemy, overrunning them and overtaking their strategic position.
What he didn’t know until reading the article was that the Borinqueneers were discriminated against within the 65th Regiment.
“They were American citizens who fought and died for our country, yet our officers treated them in a blatantly racist way,” Crose said. “It was demeaning to be told to shave off their mustaches and to take away their rice and beans.”
Hearing about the Borinqueneers’ mistreatment surprised him because his comrades never complained. He feels guilty now that he didn’t realize what they had gone through, and that the men were nice to him.
“If our positions were reversed I’m not sure I would have treated them so well,” Crose said. “I never reached out to them and I feel terrible about that.”
Like many mainland-born Americans living in Puerto Rico at the time, Crose went to a private school before joining the National Guard. His family moved to the island from Waterbury in 1958 because his father’s employer was one of the many industries that took advantage of a 10-year tax exemption the commonwealth offered.
“There were 35,000 Americans on the island then,” he said. “We were called continentals and we were privileged. I had a pocket full of money and was spoiled.”
He reflects now on the stories of bravery told by the Korean War veterans in his medical unit. One of the older men who became his mentor earned the Silver Medal, but certainly should have received the Congressional Gold Medal, he said.
“We need to get the word out to the Anglo population so they will contact their congressmen,” Crose said. “Once the story gets out, people will realize the Borinqueneers deserve the medals. History has to be repeated correctly, even the bad parts.”
Despite having a myriad of health problems, Crose is working hard for the alliance. He is currently trying to get two proclamations – one from Gov. Dannel Malloy and another from Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch.
“I was ignorant for 50 years and it was so unfair, incredibly wrong,” he said. “I’m compelled to do what I can.”
Crose has also drawn the interest of his son Sean, a writer who has scripted a screenplay about the Borinqueneers that is currently being reviewed.
The Congressional Gold Medal Alliance has succeeded in having bills introduced this year in both houses of Congress – H.R. 1726 in the House and Senate Bill S. 1174. Both pieces of legislation were required, along with the necessary number of co-sponsors – 290 in the House and 67 in the Senate – for the medals to be awarded to the Borinqueneers.
Progress has been made in securing co-sponsors, but many more are needed before the end of the legislative session or else the alliance will have to start over in the next session with zero sponsors.
Americans wishing to help the alliance should write to or e-mail their U.S. Senators (via this website) and U.S. House of Representatives member (via this website) and ask for their support. For a sample letter and more information, visit the Borinqueneers Congressional Gold Medal website.