Compiled by CTLatinoNews.com
Through an act of Congress on March 2, 1899, the first Puerto Rican unit was formed for U.S. military service. It was a volunteer battalion comprised of four companies with 100 men each. By February 1900, the unit had grown to regiment size. A second act of Congress made the Puerto Rican regiment part of the U.S. Army on May 27, 1908.
Since its earliest days, the Puerto Rican soldiers were unaccustomed to the racial segregation policies of the United States, which were also implemented in Puerto Rico, and they often refused to designate themselves as “white” or “black.” But since the first shot of World War I, which originated from “El Morro” San Juan, Puerto Rico, through the end of the Korean War, over 100,000 Borinqueneers have served in the 65th U.S. Army regiment U.S. military. The discrimination they faced as soldiers while fighting to protect the U.S. is documented, and some of the details are included in the two Borinqueneer bills, ( H.R.1726 and S.1174) which just passed both houses of the U.S. Congress.
Excerpts from H.R.1726 and S.1174
“(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 moustaches `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.”
Regardless of the prejudice they encountered, the soldiers of the 65th Regiment were determined to demonstrate their loyalty and ability to help protect the United States. They went on to fight with distinction in three wars and to demonstrate their pride; they nicknamed themselves, “The Borinqueneers” from the original Taíno name of the island (Borinquen),
World War I
During World War I, the regiment was never deployed overseas, but ironically was the first unit of the United States Army to engage forces of the German Empire. On March 21, 1915, a German supply ship trying to force its way out of San Juan Harbor to deliver supplies to German U-boats in the Atlantic came under fire from positions at El Morro Castle manned by the Puerto Rican regiment. The Germans were forced to surrender the ship and its supplies. In March, 1919, the regiment was officially renamed the 65th Infantry Regiment.
World War II
The unit also served in Casablanca after the Naval Battle of Casablanca, where the regiment underwent amphibious training. This enabled the 3rd Battalion to move on to Corsica, where it was attached to the 12th Air Force and tasked with guarding airfields. On September, 22, 1944, the 65th Infantry landed in France and was committed to action on the Maritime Alps at Peira Cava. On the 13th of December 1944, the 65th Infantry, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Juan César Cordero Dávila, relieved the 2nd Battalion of the 442nd Infantry Regiment, a regiment which was made up of Japanese Americans under the command of Col. Virgil R. Miller, a native of San Germán, Puerto Rico and former member of the 65th Infantry Regiment. In December 1944, the 3rd Battalion faced the German 34th Infantry Division’s 107th Grenadier Regiment. They suffered a total of forty seven battle casualties. The first two Puerto Ricans to be killed in action from the 65th Infantry were Pvt. Sergio Sánchez-Sánchez and Sgt. Ángel Martínez, from the town of Sabana Grande. On the 18th of March 1945, the regiment was sent to the District of Mannheim, Germany and assigned to Military Government activities, anti-sabotage and security missions. In all, the 65th Infantry participated in the campaigns of Rome-Arno, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace, and Central Europe. They returned to Puerto Rico in November, 1945.
The 65th Infantry Regiment distinguished itself when the United States conducted a military exercise on the island of Vieques, on the eve of the Korean War. This exercise was code named “Operation PORTREX,” an acronym for “Puerto Rico Exercise.” The objective was to see how the combined forces of the Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force would do as “liberators” of an enemy captured territory (Vieques) against the “aggressors.” The core of the aggressor ground forces were made up of Puerto Rican soldiers, most of whom belonged to the 65th Infantry Regiment. The liberators consisted of 32,600 combat troops from the 82nd Airborne Division‘s 504th Airborne Infantry Regiment and the Marine Corps, who received support from the Navy and Air Force. Despite the large number of troops deployed, the 65th Infantry (the aggressor) was able to halt the offensive forces on the beaches of the island. Colonel William W. Harris, the commanding officer of the 65th, stated: “Stopping the assault forces at the water’s edge proved that the Puerto Ricans could hold their own against the best-trained soldiers that the United States Army could put into the field.” [ The successful military maneuvers during PORTREX prompted the Army’s leadership to deploy the 65th Infantry to Korea.
‘Mambo on Hill 167’
Baltazar Soto, LTC, (Ret. ) US Army; and author and historian for the CGM Alliance Member writes more about this now famous Korean War battle that was officially named “Operation RedRooster” by some officer in the regiment, but to LT Walt B.Clark and the men of his platoon, it will always be called “Mambo on Hill 167.” LT Clark was platoon leader of the 2nd Platoon, C Co., 1st BN, 65th INF “Borinqueneers,” 3ID at the time.
Editor’s note: Photos and excerpts on the history of the 65th regiment were compiled from these online sources for this story. To learn more about the legendary Borinqueneers, please visit these websites: