- Posted September 12, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Salute to troops
Segregated Latino-American military unit seeks national recognition
Borinqueneers begin fall campaign for Co-Sponsors in U.S. Congress!
Similar in nature to the famed Tuskegee Airmen and other segregated U.S. military units, the 65th Infantry Regiment Borinqueneers were the largest, longest-standing, and only active-duty segregated Latino military unit in U.S. history. Like the Tuskegee Airmen, Navajo Code Talkers, Nisei Soldiers, and Montford Point Marines who’ve already been recognized with the Congressional Gold Medal, the Borinqueneers overwhelmingly distinguished themselves in battle all the while enduring the additional hardships of segregation and discrimination.
Hailing from Puerto Rico, the US Army unit was active from 1899-1959. Emblematic of all US military veterans, including the hundreds of thousands of Latino-American veterans, the Borinqueneers served and sacrificed in the cause of freedom with great pride The youngest of these remaining Latino-American heroes are in their 80’s and 90’s, having served in the Korean War, 60 years ago or more.
A nationwide, non-partisan, all-volunteer group, the Borinqueneers Congressional Gold Medal Alliance has been advocating the awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal to these elderly veterans since late last year. Made up of veterans, Latino-Americans, and like-minded patriots, the organization has worked closely with members of the U.S. Congress to facilitate the successful introduction and subsequent support of special bipartisan legislation, which requires Co-Sponsorship by two-thirds of each chamber for passage.
The U.S. House of Representatives bill, introduced this spring by Representatives Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR) and Bill Posey (R-FL), H.R. 1726, currently has 95 of the required 290 Co-Sponsors. The U.S. Senate bill, S. 1174, introduced in June by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), has 15 of the necessary 67 Co-Sponsors.
The alliance’s national chair, Frank Medina, a 2002 West Point graduate and Iraqi war combat veteran, is coordinating intense efforts this fall to encourage individuals and organizations to reach out to additional Members of Congress to secure their Co-Sponsorship of the bills.
Here is an excerpt from the bills to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the 65th Infantry Regiment, known as the Borinqueneers (US House of Representatives H.R.1726 and US Senate 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 noncommissioned officers.”
During the Korean War, 2,771 Borinqueneers earned Purple Hearts. 750 of them were killed in action, and more than 100 are still missing in action. In addition to the points cited in the 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.
Among the national organizations supporting this important initiative are League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), American GI Forum (AGIF), Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH), and National Puerto Rican Coalition (NPRC).
In an August 23rd letter from LULAC to Members of Congress, LULAC national president Margaret Moran stated, “It is with great pleasure that LULAC supports the 65th Infantry Regiment in their quest to achieve the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Therefore, we urge you to Co-Sponsor the pertinent 65th Infantry legislation requesting the auspicious CGM recognition, Congressional bills H.R. 1726 or S. 1174. The Congressional Gold Medal will be the highest award ever for the 65th Infantry Regiment and for ALL Latino Veterans. This distinction will catapult Hispanic veterans into the national spotlight and will honor all Hispanic veterans past, present and future.”
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. Interestingly, our 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.
The Borinqueneers are credited with the last battalion-sized bayonet assault in US 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 had high praise for the segregated unit. Also during Korea, the Borinqueneers valiantly defended the rear-guard of the retreating 1st Marine Division in one of the epic military withdrawals of history and were the last ones to board the retreating ships at Hungnam.
Another interesting fact is that only one Congressional Gold Medal has been awarded to a Latino-American in the 237-year history of the national award. That was forty years ago.
Even though this will be a first for many of us, the alliance is asking everyone to immediately contact your one U.S. House of Representatives member and your two U.S. Senators to request their Co-Sponsorship of the bills that would award the Congressional Gold Medal to the 65th Infantry Regiment Borinqueneers.
Information on how to identify and quickly and easily contact your Congressional representatives via phone calls or their email web forms is available on the Borinqueneers Congressional Gold Medal Alliance website at http://www.Borinqueneers.org.
Executive sponsor of the alliance is You Are Strong! Center on Veterans Health and Human Services.