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Honor Et Fidelitas

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In 2014 the United States government finally acknowledged the honor and fidelity of the military men whom it segregated, when President Obama, awarded The 65th Infantry Regiment, more commonly known as the “Borinqueneers,” one of the nations highest military honors – the Congressional Gold Medal.

The 65th Infantry Regiment, almost exclusively Puerto Rican and the last segregated unit of the Army, was officially established on September 14, 1920. The Puerto Rican servicemen were given the moniker “Borinqueneer” as it derives from the Taino word for the island of Puerto Rico, “Borinquen”. The 65th Infantry Regiment consisted of Puerto Rican men who patrolled the Panama Canal; saw frontline action in World War I, World War II and the Korean War.

It was their service during the Korean War for which they are most recognized as it marked some of the highest and lowest points for the unit. It was during this time that the unit was instrumental in the defense of the 1st Marine Division during a December 1950 withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir. They engaged in some of the fiercest fighting of the war. In 1951 they successfully mounted the last recorded battalion-sized bayonet assault in Army history.

Despite their courage and success in numerous battles, in 1953, 915 soldiers were court martialed and charged with “desertion”. The government and public were outraged causing the US Army to make an about face and admit that issues within the unit, including a change of commanders and a language barrier were the cause of the breakdown in the troop. The Army quickly overturned all of the sentences. In March 1953 during the Korean War the unit would finally diversify, adding Mexican-American, Filipinos, African-American and other Caribbean soldiers.

In an interview with NBC News New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, who was an original co-sponsor of the bill to recognize the soldiers, noted that “By the time fighting had come to a close in Korea, soldiers from The 65th Infantry Regiment had earned 10 Distinguished Service Crosses, about 250 Silver Stars, over 600 Bronze Stars and [approximately] 3,000 Purple Hearts.”

At the award ceremony, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Rubén Hinojosa probably said it best “Hispanic veterans have always been, and continue to be, part of the American story.” For helping to create that story the Borinqueneers are our Men of the Year.

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