65th Infantry Regiment, now an element of the Puerto Rican National Guard

Justice for the Korean War heroism of the 'Borinqueneers'

By —— Bio and Archives--October 29, 2013

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During the shutdown of the federal government, after President Barack Obama infamously erected barricades around the open air war memorials on the National Mall in Washington, the media carried reports of Vietnam and World War II veterans breaking through the fences to assert their stake at those sacred sites.

As the forgotten war, it is natural that similar actions at the Korean War Memorial were not as heavily mentioned and it is even more natural that when the “Borinqueneers,” one of the most forgotten groups of veterans of the war, retook their memorial it went unremarked.

Who are the Borinqueneers? They are the Puerto Rican soldiers of the 65th Infantry Regiment, now an element of the Puerto Rican National Guard. The unit has its roots in the First World War, it is most celebrated for ts deployment to Korea, when its men gallantly fought both the Communists and Army bigots.

This small victory was important, but the more important victory is when Congress recognizes the Borinqueneers with a Congressional Gold Medal, as it has other aggrieved units, who despite harsh discrimination fought bravely for America’s flag and her ideals.

During the onslaught of one million Red Chinese entering the war, the Borinqueners were especially regarded for their courage at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir and their rearguard shielding of Marines retreating from Manchuria at Hungnam Harbor in temperatures as low as 37 degrees below zero.

Rep. William J. Posey (R.-Fla.) is working the hallways and cloakrooms of the Capitol now to make this a reality. Posey’s bill, H.R. 1726, will “present” a gold medal to the regiment to honor its heroism under adversity. The bill would authorize a single gold medal to be designed and struck and displayed at the Smithsonian Institute. This is similar to the gold medals awarded to the Tuskegee Airmen, the Navajo Code Talkers, the Japanese-Americans of the 442th Regimental Combat Team and the Montford Point Marines.

One of the riddles of American society is how do you apply racial paradigms to Hispanic communities, where skin color does not carry the same importance. In the days of a segregated Army, when the regiment deployed, black soldiers of the 65th would be pulled out and transferred to black units.

When the 65th arrived in Korea in 1950, President Harry S. Truman had desegregated the military, so while the soldiers were not broken up by skin color—because there were no more black units, the Borinqueneers were given their own private segregation.

The 65th soldiers were restricted from interactions with other American soldiers and forced to use separate showers, all the while soldiers ridiculed them as “Rum and Coca-Cola Soldiers” and used an exaggerated accent to refer to the “Seextee-Feeth.”

One white commander cut their rations of rice and beans, forbid them from uttering their Borinqueneers-nickname and ordered them to shave their mustaches. 

But, rising above it all, by the end of the conflict, 2,771 Borinqueneers earned the Purple Heart, in addition to 10 Distinguished Service Crosses, 256 Silver Stars and 606 Bronze Stars.

Posey filed his bill in April and he needs 290 co-sponsors to bring it on the floor. Right now, he has 146. Remarkably for a bill sponsored by a conservative Republican, 97 of the 146 congressmen are Democrats.

Roughly 3 percent of the bills filed in Congress never make it to the president’s desk. Certainly, this bill should not be part of the 97 percent on the trash heap. For Republicans supporting this bill is an easy way to both make amends for soldiers mistreated by the Army and to demonstrate an empathy for the minority experience.

Besides, it is better to strike the gold medal now—while we can still afford it.


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Neil W. McCabe -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Neil W. McCabe is the editor of Human Event’s “Guns & Patriots” e-letter and was a senior reporter at the Human Events newspaper. McCabe deployed with the Army Reserve to Iraq for 15 months as a combat historian. For many years, he was a reporter and photographer for “The Pilot,” Boston’s Catholic paper. He was also the editor of two free community papers, “The Somerville (Mass.) News and “The Alewife (North Cambridge, Mass.).”

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