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Thu May 30, 2013
The Borinqueneers: an All Puerto-Rican Unit in the U.S. Army
There'a a push among federal legislators to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the last segregated Hispanic unit in the U.S. military.
Members of the 65th infantry regiment called themselves the Borinqueneers. They were an all Puerto Rican unit that served in WWI and WWII. They became known for the battles they fought in the Korean War including success in pushing back the Chinese and the support they gave U.S Marines after the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. 84-year-old Celestino Cordova of Hartford was one of the 61,000 Puerto Ricans who served in Korea. He talks warmly of his service in 1951 including being chosen as one of the first Hispanics to become an Army Ranger. "I was proud to serve in the U.S Army defending the country It was easy to go and fight, I felt happy to be there." Yet, like other segregated units in the military, the Borinqueneers also faced discrimination. Carmelo Figueroa, of the Hispanic American Veterans of Connecticut says while the unit was praised by leaders like General Douglas MacArthur for its courage, others called them "rum and coke" soldiers. He says despite their prowess on the battlefield, the contributions of these Puerto Rican soldiers were overlooked after the Korean War. "And the fact that the 3rd infantry division were recognized with these campaign medals and the lack of attention to the 65th infantry division was very bothersome to them. " Korean war veteran ,Cordova thinks the Congressional gold medal will finally mean recognition of the sacrifice of the Borinqueneers on the battlefield and back at home. Over 3000 of them were wounded and 700 killed. After Korea, Cordova moved to New Haven where he had to forgo his GI bill benefits so he could work fulltime to take care of his family. He credits his faith for bringing him back alive with no serious injuries. "Thanks, God. And thanks to my parents because they had faith in everything and they pray because I came alive. And I recognized it after I was 60 years old. Not before. " It's estimated five-hundred Borinqueneers are still alive today. That's why there's a push to finally recognize them for their service and valor. U.S Senator Richard Blumenthal is introducing a bill to give the 65th infantry regiment a Congressional Gold Medal. It's a companion bill to House legislation already introduced by Florida Congressman Bill Posey and Puerto Rico's Representative, Pedro Pierluisi. The medal has been bestowed on other segregated units in the U.S military including the Tuskegee Airmen and the Montford Point Marines.