65th Infantry Borinqueneers receive Congressional Gold Medal
On Wednesday, April 13, Veterans of the U.S. Army’s 65th Infantry Regiment, the unit of Puerto Rican soldiers that served in World War I, World War II and Korean War were honored with the Congressional Gold Medal in a ceremony at Emancipation Hall at the U.S. Capitol. These soldiers, known as the “Borinqueneers,” answered the nation’s call to serve at a time when the military was still segregated. They were the largest, longest standing and only active duty segregated Latino military unit in U.S. history.
It was Lt. Teófilo Marxuach’s unit of the 65th Infantry Regiment that was stationed at El Morro Castle at San Juan Bay that fired warning shots at a German supply ship trying to force its way out of the San Juan Bay. Those would be the first shots fired by the United States in World War I. By the time the Korean War had ended, soldiers from the 65th Infantry Regiment had earned 10 Distinguished Service Crosses, about 250 Silver Stars, over 600 Bronze Stars and 3,000 Purple Hearts.
Borinqueneer Veterans, most of them in their 80s and 90s, attended the ceremony hosted by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and other leaders of Congress. “This honor is long overdue. But I want you all to know that Veterans of Puerto Rico have never been forgotten by the American people,” said VA Secretary Bob McDonald in his remarks at the ceremony.
In two weeks, McDonald will travel to Puerto Rico to personally deliver the Congressional Gold Medal to the members of the 65th Infantry Regiment beneath the walls of El Morro. He will host a Veterans Town Hall with Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, who wrote the legislation for Congressional Gold Medal that was signed by President Obama in 2014.
Secretary McDonald will also visit with Veterans at Casa de Veterano in Juana Diaz and the Puerto Rico National Cemetery “to pay my respects on behalf of a nation to the Borinqueneers who did not live to see this day, but who are finally now receiving the recognition they so richly deserve,” he said. “They will always be remembered. That’s President Lincoln’s promise. That’s VA’s promise. And that’s my promise as well.”
Each year, the Veterans Day National Committee hosts the annual Veterans Day observance at Arlington National Cemetery. This year, 33 communities in 25 states and the District of Columbia will also host VA-recognized Veterans Day observances to pay tribute to America’s heroes.