by María C. Irizarry-Rodríguez, Special Agent – NCIS (Retired)
Borinqueneers Congressional Gold Medal Alliance – NE FL Chief Advocate
HAPCOA Member

On April 13, 2016, at an official ceremony in the US Capitol, the 65th Infantry Regiment was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. 
From left to right: House Speaker Paul Ryan, Sergeant Major José E. Colón, Colonel Manuel F. Siverio Sr., Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Acting Secretary of the Army Patrick J. Murphy. Photo: house.gov

HAPCOA has been a proud sponsor and supporter of the Borinqueneers Congressional Gold Medal Alliance all throughout the process of petitioning and obtaining this well-deserved recognition.  HAPCOA also contributed funds, which were utilized towards the promotion and dissemination of information, lobbying in Congress, and to the successful evening reception following the awards ceremony, which took place at the Hilton Crystal City, Alexandria, VA. 

Who are the Borinqueneers?

The US Army’s 65th Infantry Regiment was the only Hispanic-segregated, active-duty regiment ever to serve in our US Armed Forces.  The regiment was active from 1899-1956, and fought in WWI, WWII and most notably in the War in Korea.  

The moniker “Borinqueneer” is derived from the name the native inhabitants of Puerto Rico, the Taíno Indians, gave to our island:  Borinquén. 

Although comprised by a majority of Puerto Ricans, during the Korean War, the 65th also embraced Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, Filipinos, Virgin Islanders, and several other ethnicities.

The 65th is credited with executing the last U.S. battalion sized bayonet enemy assault – which took place during the War in Korea.  They also are credited with defending the rear-guard of the US 1st Marine Division during one of the epic military withdrawals in the Korean War, and were the last ones to board the retreating ships (December, 1950).  

Over the span of WWI, WWII and the War in Korea, some of the 65th Infantry Regiment’s achievements include: 10 Distinguished Service Crosses, 258 Silver Stars, 628 Bronze Stars, and

2771 Purple Hearts (670 KIA.)

During the Korean War, the 65th Infantry Regiment participated in 9 major campaigns and received numerous awards, to include two Presidential Unit Citations, and a Meritorious Unit Commendation, among others

Following the War in Korea, the members of the 65th Infantry Regiment were integrated in the regular Army, ending segregation. 

Borinqueneers during the wreath laying ceremony at the Korean War Memorial, Washington, DC, April 13, 2016.

The Congressional Gold Medal

The Congressional Gold Medal is the nation’s highest civilian award, equivalent to a Presidential Medal of Freedom.  It is awarded to those who:

“have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipients’ field long after achieved.”

The Congressional Gold Medal has been rightfully bestowed to other minority veterans who served in segregated units, to include the Navajo Code Talkers, the African-American Tuskegee Airmen, the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, the Japanese-American Nisei Veterans and 

the African-American Montford Point Marines.

These Americans, who were contemporaries to our Borinqueneers, achieved greatness despite enduring prejudicial and biased conditions.  They all broke through stereotypes and exceeded expectations, accomplishing this under adverse circumstances. 

We honor them while they are still with us!

Following the official ceremony of the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal, a reception took place at the Hilton Crystal City, Alexandria, VA.  Funds were contributed on behalf of HAPCOA towards this successful event. From left to right:  HAPCOA members José Callejas, María Irizarry-Rodríguez and HAPCOA 2nd VP Richard Rosa.  María is holding a "collage" of photographs of relatives who were Borinqueneers, to include her father, 3 uncles, her father-in-law, and a very good friend of the family.


From left to right:  HAPCOA 2nd VP Richard Rosa, Borinqueneer Don José E. Colón, and HAPCOA member María Irizarry-Rodríguez.  Don José was the Borinqueneers' last Command Sergeant Major.  He enlisted in the US Army in 1937.  


 

From left to right:  HAPCOA 2nd VP Richard Rosa, Borinqueneer Don Raúl Reyes Castañeira, and HAPCOA member María Irizarry-Rodríguez.  It was Don Raúl who proposed the idea, and inspired the quest, for the Borinqueneers be recognized with the Congressional Gold Medal.