The History Of The 'Borinqueneers' – A Story of Pride, Despite Prejudice

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Officer Staff, “Porto Rico” Regiment, 1906.

 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

In 1942,  the 65th Infantry underwent an extensive training program and in 1943, it was sent to Panama to protect the Pacific and the Atlantic sides of the isthmus. On the 25th of November 1943, Colonel Antulio Segarra, proceeded Col. John R. Menclenhall as commander of the 65th Infantry, thus becoming the first Puerto Rican Regular Army officer to command a Regular Army regiment.  In January, 1944, the regiment was embarked for Jackson Barracks in New Orleans and later sent to Fort Eustis in Newport News, Virginia in preparation for overseas deployment to North Africa.

200px-Soldiers_of_65th_Infantry_after_an_all_day_schedule_of_maneuvers_at_Salinas,_Puerto_Rico__August_1941
Soldiers of the 65th Infantry training in Salinas, Puerto Rico. August 1941.

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.

Operation “PORTREX”

Portrex6March1950
65th Infantry troops convoyed through Isabel Segunda for PORTREX.

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.

 Korean War

A few years later, 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.  The  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.
It was in this war that the Borinqueneers are credited with the final regimental bayonet assault in US Army history.  In early 1951 while fighting in Korea, two battalions of the 65th fixed bayonets and charged straight BorinqueneersinBattleup hill toward the enemy, over running them and overtaking the enemy’s strategic position.  During the Korean War,  2,771 Borinqueneers earned Purple Hearts.  750 of them were killed in action, and more than 120 are still missing in action.  In addition to the points cited in the congressional 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.

‘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.

He had recently graduated from the Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina and the Infantry Officer Basic Course. The young 21-year-old looked at his assignment as a challenge in leadership, since he was selected to lead these mostly Spanish- speaking soldiers from the tropical Puerto Rican and Virgin Islands. Many officers at the time thought it was the kiss of death to be assigned to the Puerto Rican Regiment.  Critics called it the “seeeexty feeeeth” mockingly imitating the Spanish accent of most of the regiment’s Puerto Rican soldiers.” “No platoon member living or dead was left behind.” “Arriba muchachos!” “One general called it a regiment of “colored” troops, unreliable and inferior to continental “white” soldiers
But through two years of intense front line combat in the KoreanWar, the 65th Infantry Regiment proved all the critics wrong. Under the command of Lt. Clark, the 2nd Platoon in March, 1952, he worked to instill in his men aggressiveness, and “the spirit of the bayonet.” He always had a kitchen grinding stone and had his men sharpen their 10 inch blades, insisting they have their bayonet on them at all times; the men even slept with their M-1 rifles with bayonets fixed.
Although the unit remained segregated and discrimination continued, the Borinqnueners heroic efforts in the Korean  battle were praised by General Douglas MacArthur.
“The Puerto Ricans forming the ranks of the gallant 65th Infantry give daily proof on the battlefields of Korea of their courage, determination and resolute will to victory, their invincible loyalty to the United States and their fervent devotion to those immutable principles of human relations which the Americans of the Continent and of Puerto Rico have in common.  They are writing a brilliant record of heroism in battle and I am indeed proud to have them under my command. I wish that we could count on many more like them.”
-General Douglas MacArthur-


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:

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