Successful BVA Advocacy for Congressional Gold Medal

by Frank Medina

On June 10, 2014 history was made for the 65th Infantry Regiment, nicknamed the “Borinqueneers” and hailing from Puerto Rico. President Obama signed the Congressional Gold Medal (CGM) legislation ushering the Borinqueneers into the annals of American history. The CGM recognition parallels the Presidential Medal of Freedom, is awarded less frequently, and is arguably more rigorous due to its stringent legislative requirements. 

The 65th Infantry Regiment was the only Hispanic-segregated, active-duty military unit in the Armed Forces. The regiment originated in 1899 and deactivated in 1956. During the Korean War, it was composed predominantly of soldiers from Puerto Rico but consisted of minor elements of other ethnicities such as Anglo (from the continental U.S.), African-American, Virgin Islander, and Mexican-American.

The leading movement behind this cause originated largely from a grassroots volunteer group called the “Borinqueneers CGM Alliance” (BCGMA), which I founded as a former Army Captain, West Point graduate, and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran. The effort was sponsored by the You Are Strong! (YAS!) Center for Veterans Health and Human Services.

The Blinded Veterans Association was also a proud sponsor of this effort through a letter from its national headquarters. The organization helped tremendously in advocating for the initiative through BVA member Jose Cotto of San Antonio, Texas. Jose was instrumental in mobilizing the Congressional delegation in Texas and soliciting their support. He was one of the very first volunteers of the BCGMA.

The Congressional Gold Medal legislation was especially important to Jose. The following comment illustrates how much it meant to him: “The Borinqueneers CGM project was very dear to me because my uncle and godfather were twice wounded as Borinqueneers in the Korean War, and my participation on the national executive committee in the quest for the CGM was a ‘kick the bucket list’ project for me to honor their lives.”

Awarding the CGM to the Borinqueneers will sit in importance alongside other segregated military units that have also rightfully received it, including the Tuskegee Airmen, the Navajo Code Talkers, and many other Native American tribes, Nisei Soldiers, Women Air Force Service Pilots and, most recently, the Montford Point Marines. 

Out of all of the veterans groups meriting the CGM, the Borinqueneers set a precedent as the first military unit that fought in the Korean War to receive the recognition. Moreover, the only two strictly Army outfits to receive the CGM were the Nisei Soldiers (Japanese-American) and the Borinqueneers.

The lineage of the 65th Infantry Regiment traces back to 1899 with Spain ceding the island of Puerto Rico after the Spanish-American War. Altogether, the unit participated in World War I, World War II, and most notably the Korean War. On their ship journey to the Korean War, soldiers of the 65th Infantry Regiment drew their nickname “Borinqueneers” from a lottery of other proposed nicknames. The anglicized moniker “Borinqueneers” stems from the island of Puerto Rico’s indigenous Taino name “Borinquen,” meaning “Land of the Brave Lord”.

The regiment's motto is “Honor et Fidelitas,” Latin for Honor and Fidelity.

It was during the Korean War that the Borinqueneers performed their pinnacle military achievements and demonstrated much valor and heroism among the additional adversities of segregation, institutional prejudice, language barriers, and other unusual obstacles. For the first time in its history, the 65th Infantry was assigned a primary combat role in Korea. After November 1950, they fought daily against units of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army after the Chinese entered the war on the North Korean side.

One of the “unusual obstacles” endured by the Borinqueneers was their lack of warm clothing during the cold and harsh winters. They were part of a task force that enabled the U.S. Marines to withdraw from the Chosin River in the winter temperatures of December 1950.

The valor of the Borinqueneers led to several crowning accomplishments such as 1) executing the last recorded battalion bayonet assault against the Chinese enemy, and 2) performing a critical role in defending the evacuation corridor for one of the greatest military withdrawals in U.S. history after UN Forces were encircled by a formidable Chinese enemy.

Suffice to mention, the 65th Infantry Regiment exceeded the military leadership’s expectations. This same leadership previously harbored ill-conceived notions about the soldiers of the unit and their capabilities. Furthermore, the gold medal recognition weaves the contributions of the Borinqueneers into the fabric of American culture.

Frank Medina was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, and grew up in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering Management and a Minor in Electrical Engineering at West Point. He currently lives in Orlando, Florida, where he works with the Department of the Navy as a Systems Engineer for training and simulation technologies for U.S. Navy platforms.