Having bravely fought during World War I, World War II and the Korean War, the Puerto Rican 65th Infantry may soon be honored with the Congressional Gold Medal
From their early days in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Borinqueneers of the 65th Infantry Regiment bravely fought for the United States, guarding the Panama Canal, helping defeat the axis powers and rebuffing Chinese soldiers. And despite institutional discrimination, they remained loyal to not only their own unit, but others as well, winning many well-deserved medals and, ultimately, the respect of their fellow non-Latino soldiers
Prior to the Vietnam conflict, much of U.S. military was segregated. The all-Puerto Rican 65th Infantry Regiment is one such example. Although it bravely fought during World War I, World War II and the Korean War, it wasnt widely recognized until just recently. Now, some Latino and veterans groups are pushing Congress to award the 65th with the Congressional Gold Medal.
The history of the 65thalso known as the Borinqueneers, a combination of the original name of Puerto Rico (Borinquen) and the word buccaneersgoes back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1899, Congress authorized what was then known as the Porto Rico Battalion of Volunteer Infantry. Shortly after that, in 1908, it was re-designated as the Porto Rico Regiment of Infantry, U.S. Army, and became a Regular Army Regiment.
Shortly after the U.S. granted Puerto Ricans citizenship in 1917 under the Jones-Shafroth Act, many were drafted to serve in World War I, originally to defend the Panama Canal Zone. In 1920, the unit was transferred to the Army and officially named the 65th Infantry Regiment.
In the interim between World War I and World War II, this Spanish-speaking regiment served under General McArthur during the so-called Banana Wars in Central America. Many of the men that comprised the 65th came from the rural areas of Puerto Rico. This was in part because they had more experience with weapons than their urban counterparts and made for fine marksmen.
World War II
When the U.S. entered World War II, the 65th was reassigned to the Panama Canal Zone, as well as French Guiana, parts of which had come under Vichy control. One such soldier was the father of Antonio Flores, an advertising and marketing consultant. My father was a quarter master in the 65th, Flores says, and first served in Puerto Rico, then Panama and then French Guiana. Flores cousin also served in World War II as a master sergeant.
The 65th was also deployed across the Atlantic, first to North Africa, then to Italy, Corsica, France and Peira Cava in the French Maritime Alps, where it suffered 47 battle casualties during it first combat action. The regiment became notable in many other ways during World War II, helping train, for example, the African-American pilots who later became known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
A lot of whitesespecially southernersrefused to train the Tuskegee recruits, so the army called in Puerto Rican flight trainers to do it, notes Flores, who is an evangelist for the 65th. They were in the same boatsegregatedthe Puerto Ricans because of language and the blacks because of color.
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