Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) announced that he has introduced a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the 65th Infantry Regiment "Borinqueneers." The historic regiment is the sole Hispanic-only segregated unit in the armed forces ever. The unit fought bravely in World Wars I and II and the Korean War all while enduring discrimination. Congress has commissioned gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. Each medal honors a particular individual, institution, or event.
"The Borinqueneers' service to our Nation on the battlefield would alone merit recognition, but when that service is coupled with the discrimination they endured the case for a Congressional Gold Medal becomes clear," Senator Casey said. "Their heroism and perseverance are an example to Americans everywhere. Congress should take steps this year to honor their heroism and their dedication to the true promise of America."
The 65th Infantry Regiment was an Army unit from Puerto Rico and was the only Hispanic-segregated unit to ever exist in the U.S. Armed Forces. The unit fought bravely, particularly in the Korean War, despite experiencing racial discrimination and segregation. Having been involved in three wars (World War I, World War II, and the Korean War), the Borinqueneers were the longest-standing segregated unit in our nation's history. During this fight for the freedom of South Korea, they faced racial discrimination from their own country, but continued to fight well. At one point, a "continental" officer (one from the mainland of the United States) was placed in charge of the unit. After a setback on the battlefield, the commander ordered that the unit stop calling itself the "Borinqueneers," cut their special rations of rice and beans, ordered the men to shave off their mustaches, and forced one of them wear signs that read, "I am a coward." This unfair treatment, the language barrier, a non-commissioned officer shortage, and poor leadership were all factors that influenced some of the men of one company to no longer fight. As a result, ninety-five soldiers were court-martialed. The Secretary of the Army later remitted the sentences and granted clemency and pardons to all convicted after the public became aware of the incident. In addition to the remittance of sentences, the 65th Infantry Regiment, the last segregated unit of any kind to fight in Korea, also vindicated itself on the battlefield by defending Outpost Harry in 1953. The heroism of the Borinqueneers at the end of the war helped convince the Army to not disband the unit. To this day, the first battalion of the 65th Infantry regiment remains a formal unit after its allocation to the Puerto Rico Army National Guard.