POLITICS

Borinqueneers upset after year goes by and their Congressional Gold Medal tangled in red tape

Obama signs H.R. 1726 to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the 65th Infantry Regiment, June 10, 2014.

Obama signs H.R. 1726 to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the 65th Infantry Regiment, June 10, 2014.  (ap)

The Congressional Gold Medal that a mostly Puerto Rican army unit known as the Borinqueneers waited decades to get – and which President Barack Obama signed into law last June – still has not been printed and engraved.

This week, Sen. Marco Rubio sent a letter to Obama complaining about the delay, noting that in Florida alone, four of the Borinqueneers have died since the president signed the bill authorizing the medal that they’d spent most of their life awaiting.

Less than 70 of these veterans are still alive, most of them settled in Florida and Puerto Rico. Their regiment fought in both World Wars and the Korean War — segregated from their fellow soldiers. 

“The Borinqueneers fought hard for our nation and, given their age, many of them are concerned they will never see the Congressional Gold Medal,” Rubio, a Republican, wrote in a Feb. 24 letter to the president.

Dennis Freytes, himself a veteran and a son of a Borinqueneer, told Fox News Latino bureaucracy is to blame for the delay. He said he understands there are other medals “in the pipeline,” but this one requires and deserves speedy action.

“We want this to be fast-tracked. The design will be selected in June – why wait a full year? The president could move on this,” said Dennis Freytes, vice president of the National Association of Uniform Services. “We want the most Borinqueneers to be available for the honor,” he added.

Freytes said he has provided Congress an outline detailing the steps that need to be taken to honor the octogenarians “hopefully before the end of the year.” He also said the entire unit is very grateful at Senator Rubio’s unfaltering support for over a decade now, since he was Speaker of the Florida House.

“He has always been at the front of the line, he has been a staunch supporter,” Freytes said.

The Borinqueneers are the last segregated group to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award in the United States. The black Tuskegee Airmen and the Navajo Code Talkers received the award years ago.

In signing the bill last year, Obama said it “honors military heroes from our history.”

In Puerto Rico, efforts also have been underway to honor the Borinqueneers. They include a bust with their names on it, and a replica of the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor once it is available.

“The unit boasts 10 Distinguished Service Crosses, over 250 Silver Stars, more than 600 Bronze Stars and nearly 3,000 Purple Hearts,” notes Sen. Rubio in his letter. They have served our country courageously and with distinction, and now we must ensure that they all receive their Congressional Gold Medal immediately.”

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