It’s difficult for me to imagine the full effects of segregation and discrimination that soldiers of the Borinqueneers, the U.S. Army’s 65th Infantry Regiment, may have faced on a daily basis while defending their country and protecting our freedom.
The Borinqueneers served, gallantly fought, and many died, as members of this segregated unit of the regular Army during WWI, WWII, and the Korean War. They were unarguably the largest and longest standing unit of its kind in U.S. history.
They served during a different era. We’re talking 60 years ago and more. While today’s Latino-Americans still face significant amounts of prejudice, both overt and covert, it must have been even more intense, disheartening, and hurtful way back then. They were soldiers a long way from home.
This Latino-American unit was mainly made up of Puerto Ricans, but also included recruits with other Latino backgrounds, and even some mainlanders as they were called at the time. The Borinqueneer who later achieved the highest rank, a Mexican-American from Texas, became the first ever Latino-American Four-Star Army General.
His name is Richard E. Cavazos. He holds more awards for heroism, military leadership and service than most. These include two Distinguished Service Cross awards, our nation’s second highest individual military honor for heroism, one from Korea and the other from Vietnam.
The late Modesto Cartagena, a Borinqueneer who served in WWII and Korea, is the most decorated Puerto Rican soldier in US history. He holds the Distinguished Service Cross, as well as the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star with oak leaf cluster and “V” device, the Purple Heart, and many others.
The Borinqueneers are credited with the final battalion-sized bayonet assault in U.S. Army history. In early 1951, while fighting in Korea, two battalions of the 65th fixed bayonets and charged straight up hill toward the enemy, over running them and overtaking the enemy’s strategic position.
General Douglas MacArthur said of the Borinqueneers, “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.”
During Korea, the Borinqueneers were awarded 10 Distinguished Service Crosses, 256 Silver Stars, 606 Bronze Stars, and 2,771 Purple Hearts. Deaths in Korea among the Borinqueneers numbered 750 men. Of these, over 100 are still listed as Missing in Action. They never came home.
Today, a nationwide, all-volunteer group of individuals and organizations, known as the Borinqueneers Congressional Gold Medal Alliance, has formed and is dedicated to achieving the Congressional Gold Medal for the Borinqueneers. The Congressional Gold Medal has been awarded to other minority veterans who served in segregated military units, including the Native American Navajo Code Talkers, the African-American Tuskeegee Airmen, the Japanese-American Nisei, and the African-American Montford Point Marines.
All of these are well-deserved honors, and the Borinqueneers must be added to this list now!
Currently, the alliance is asking all like-minded Americans to write to or e-mail their two U.S. Senators and one U.S. House of Representatives member and ask for their support. The Congressional Gold Medal for the Borinqueneers requires approval by Congress. Links to the Congressional directories are below. Please heed this important “Call to Action” right away.
A sample letter/email is available at: http://www.65thcgm.org/
Larry Bystran serves on the national steering committee of Borinqueneers Congressional Gold Medal Alliance.