Editor’s Note: This breaking news from the Congressional Gold Medal Alliance came in this morning. The senate yesterday passed the bill awarding the 65th regiment, known as the Borinqueneers, the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor. The following is the statement issued by the Congressional Gold Medal Alliance which led the national grassroots effort to bestow this honor.
Honoring the only Hispanic segregated active-duty military unit in U.S. History, the 65th Infantry Regiment “Borinqueneers,” with the Congressional Gold Medal took a major leap forward this week when both House Bill (HR 1726) and Senate Bill (S. 1174) passed their respective chambers.
As the Memorial Day weekend looms, the 65th Infantry Regiment known as the “Borinqueneers” achieved two major milestones in earning the nation’s highest civilian award, the Congressional Gold Medal (CGM). The U.S. Senate bill S. 1174 which authorizes the “Borinqueneers” with the CGM passed today by unanimous vote. On Monday, the House companion bill H.R. 1726, also passed unanimously. These two milestones unfolded within about year’s timeframe from when both bills were originally introduced in their respective chambers. The CGM recognition parallels the Presidential Medal of Freedom, is awarded less frequently and is arguably more rigorous due to its stringent legislative requirements. The Borinqueneers CGM legislation is now on its path to the White House for President Obama’s signature.
The movement behind this cause primarily originated with a grassroots volunteer group called the “Borinqueneers CGM Alliance” (BCGMA) founded by former Army Captain and Iraq War veteran, Frank Medina and sponsored by the You Are Strong! (YAS!) Center for Veterans Health and Human Services.
Frank recounts, “It’s amazing how the collective and cumulative efforts from devoted individuals and organizations around the country culminated in this landmark achievement. The 65th CGM cause transcended all races, ethnicities, nationalities in unifying for a noble and righteous cause. Volunteers encompassed Anglos, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Native-Americans, Colombians and various others…This could not have happened without their aggressive ‘boots on ground’ support…”
Medina also adds, “I want to express my deepest appreciation to our Congressional sponsors, Rep. Pierluisi, Rep. Posey, and Sen. Blumenthal along with their superb staffers. They tackled and shouldered the lion’s share of this endeavor and it was very fortuitous that our joint efforts were complimentary. Without their tenacity, this could not have been possible…”
Awarding the CGM to the Borinqueneers will sit alongside other segregated military units that have rightfully received the Congressional Gold Medal, including the Tuskegee Airmen, Navajo Code Talkers and many other Native American tribes, Nisei Soldiers, and Montford Point Marines.
The lineage of the 65th Infantry Regiment traces back to 1899, after Spain ceded the island of Puerto Rico after the Spanish-American War. Altogether, the unit has participated in World War I, World War II, and most notably the Korean War. A remnant battalion from the 65th Infantry still resides in the Puerto Rican National Guard where it still serves in the nation’s on-going military campaigns. At the onset of the Korean War, the 65th Infantry dubbed themselves the anglicized nickname “Borinqueneers” after the island of Puerto Rico’s indigenous name “Borinquen” meaning “Land of the Brave Lord”.
But it was during the Korean War that the Borinqueneers performed their pinnacle military achievements and demonstrated much valor and heroism amidst the additional adversities of segregation, institutional prejudice, language barriers and other unusual obstacles. Such highlight accomplishments, to name a few, include: 1) The last recorded bayonet assault against the enemy and 2) Defending the evacuation corridor for one of the greatest military withdrawals in US history.
Although primarily composed of Puerto Ricans hailing from Puerto Rico and mainland USA, during the Korean War, the 65th Infantry Regiment had minor elements of segregated African-Americans, Virgin Islanders, Filipinos, and Mexican-Americans as part of a Regimental Combat Team. As such, the only Latino ever to rise to the rank of four-star general in the Army, General (Retired) Richard Cavazos, is Mexican-American. Then First Lieutenant Cavazos fought with the 65th Infantry as a racially integrated unit in 1953, although an executive order desegregating military units was issued by President Harry Truman in 1948. First Lieutenant Richard Cavazos earned the Army’s highest decoration, the Distinguished Service Cross, for his heroic actions in the battle for Outpost Harry in 1953.
“I strongly advocate on behalf of all veterans and their health and human services needs. The passing of this bill will significantly help shed light on those needs and on the commitment and rich history that so many Hispanic/Latino veterans have in serving our nation.” adds Xiomara Sosa, executive sponsor of the BCGMA and founder/director of YAS!.
Out of 155 CGM recipients since 1776, only one other Latino American has earned the prestigious distinction. Roberto Clemente, Baseball Hall-of-Famer and humanitarian hailing from Puerto Rico, received the honor in 1973 regrettably after passing away in an airplane crash while delivering food and other supplies to then earthquake ravaged Nicaragua victims.
Interesting to note also is that the awarding of the Borinqueneers CGM would be the first recipient to a Korean War veterans group. The majority of the veterans group CGM recipients have their roots in World War II.
Medina states, “Along with honoring the Borinqueneer veterans, the Congressional Gold Medal will be the highest award ever for ALL Latino Veterans. This distinction will catapult Hispanic veterans into the national spotlight and aim to honor all Hispanic veterans past, present and future. Today is one step closer to weave the contributions of the Borinqueneers, Puerto Rico and all Latinos in the fabric of American culture…”