IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES
June 18, 2013
Mr. Blumenthal (for himself, Mr. Chambliss, Ms. Warren, Mr. Rubio, Mr. Nelson, Mr. Menendez, Mr. Schumer, and Mr. Casey) introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs
To award a Congressional Gold Medal to the 65th Infantry Regiment, known as the Borinqueneers.
The Congress finds the following:
In 1898, the United States acquired Puerto Rico in the Treaty of Paris that ended the Spanish-American War and, by the following year, Congress had authorized raising a unit of volunteer soldiers in the newly acquired territory.
In May 1917, two months after legislation granting United States citizenship to individuals born in Puerto Rico was signed into law, and one month after the United States entered World War I, the unit was transferred to the Panama Canal Zone because United States Army policy at the time restricted most segregated units to noncombat roles, although the regiment could have contributed to the fighting effort.
In June 1920, the unit was re-designated as the 65th Infantry Regiment, United States Army, and it would serve as the United States military’s last segregated unit composed of Hispanic soldiers.
In January 1943, 13 months after the attack on Pearl Harbor that marked the entry of the United States into World War II, the Regiment again deployed to the Panama Canal Zone, before deploying overseas in the spring of 1944.
Despite the Regiment’s relatively limited combat service in World War II, the unit suffered casualties in the course of defending against enemy attacks, with individual soldiers earning one Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars and 90 Purple Hearts, and the unit receiving campaign participation credit for Rome-Arno, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace, and Central Europe.
Although an Executive order issued by President Harry S. Truman in July 1948 declared it to be United States policy to ensure equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without respect to race or color, implementation of this policy had yet to be fully realized when armed conflict broke out on the Korean peninsula in June 1950, and both African-American soldiers and Puerto Rican soldiers served in segregated units.
William W. Harris, who served as the Regiment’s commander during the early
stages of the Korean War, later recalled that he had initially been reluctant
to take the position because of prejudice within the military and
the feeling of the officers and even the brass of the Pentagon . . .
that the Puerto Rican wouldn’t make a good combat soldier. . . . I know my
contemporaries felt that way and, in all honesty, I must admit that at the time
I had the same feeling . . . that the Puerto Rican was a rum and Coca-Cola
One of the first opportunities the regiment had to prove its combat worthiness arose on the eve of the Korean War during PORTREX, one of the largest military exercises that had been conducted up until that point, where the Regiment distinguished itself by repelling an offensive consisting of over 32,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division and the United States Marine Corps, supported by the Navy and Air Force, thereby demonstrating that Puerto Rican soldiers could hold their own against some of the best-trained soldiers in the United States military.
In August 1950, as the United States Army’s situation in Korea deteriorated, the commander of the 3rd Infantry Division requested another infantry regiment to be added to his organization and, owing in large part to the 65th Infantry Regiment’s outstanding performance during PORTREX, it was selected for the assignment.
As the Regiment sailed to Asia in September 1950, members of the unit informally decided to call themselves the Borinqueneers, a term derived from the Taino word for Puerto Rico meaning land of the brave lord.
The story of the
65th Infantry Regiment during the Korean War has been aptly described as
one of pride, courage, heartbreak, and redemption.
Fighting as a
segregated unit from 1950 to 1952, the Regiment participated in some of the
fiercest battles of the war, and its toughness, courage and loyalty earned the
admiration of many who had previously harbored reservations about Puerto Rican
soldiers based on negative stereotypes, including Brigadier General William W.
Harris, whose experience eventually led him to regard the Regiment as
the best damn soldiers that I had ever seen.
Arriving in Pusan, South Korea in September
1950, the regiment was assigned the mission of destroying or capturing small
groups of North Korean soldiers, and its success led General Douglas MacArthur,
Commander-in-Chief of the United Nations Command in Korea, to observe that the
showing magnificent ability and courage in field
In December 1950, following China’s intervention in the war, the Regiment engaged in a series of fierce battles with the enemy to cover the rear guard of the 1st Marine Division as it executed one of the greatest withdrawals in modern military history during the fighting retreat from the Chosin Reservoir.
The Regiment was instrumental in helping to secure the final foothold for the Marine evacuation at Hungham, and was among the last units to leave the beachhead on Christmas Eve, suffering tremendous casualties in the process.
The winter conditions in Korea presented significant hardships for the Regiment, which suffered hundreds of casualties because its soldiers lacked appropriate gear to fight in sub-zero temperatures.
Between January and March 1951, the Regiment participated in numerous operations to recover and retain South Korean territory lost to the enemy, assaulting heavily fortified enemy positions and conducting the last recorded battalion-sized bayonet assault in United States Army history.
On January 31,
1951, the commander of Eighth Army, Lieutenant General Matthew B. Ridgway wrote
to the Regiment’s commander:
What I saw and heard of your regiment
reflects great credit on you, your regiment, and the people of Puerto Rico, who
can be proud of their valiant sons. I am confident that their battle records
and training levels will win them high honors. . . . Their conduct in battle
has served only to increase the high regard in which I hold these fine
On February 3,
1951, General MacArthur wrote:
The Puerto Ricans forming the ranks of
the gallant 65th Infantry on the battlefields of Korea by valor, determination,
and a resolute will to victory give daily testament to their invincible loyalty
to the United States and the fervor of their devotion to those immutable
standards of human relations to which the Americans and Puerto Ricans are in
common dedicated. They are writing a brilliant record of achievement in battle
and I am proud indeed to have them in this command. I wish that we might have
many more like them..
The Regiment played a critical role in the United States counteroffensive responding to a major push by the Chinese Communist Forces (CFF) in 1951, winning praise for its superb performance in multiple battles, including Operations KILLER and RIPPER.
By 1952, in light of the Regiment’s proven fighting abilities, senior United States commanders ordered that replacement soldiers from Puerto Rico should no longer be limited to service in the Regiment, but could be made available to fill personnel shortages in non-segregated units both inside and outside the 3rd Infantry Division, a major milestone that, paradoxically, harmed the Regiment by depriving it of some of Puerto Rico’s most able soldiers.
Beyond the many hardships endured by most American soldiers in Korea, the Regiment faced unique challenges due to discrimination and prejudice, including—
the humiliation of
being ordered to shave their moustaches
until such a time as they gave
proof of their manhood;
being forced to use separate showering facilities from their non-Hispanic Continental officers;
being ordered not to speak Spanish under penalty of court-martial;
flawed personnel-rotation policies based on ethnic and organizational prejudices; and
a catastrophic shortage of trained noncommissioned officers.
In 1953, the now fully integrated Regiment
earned admiration for its relentless defense of Outpost Harry, during which it
confronted multiple company-size probes, full-scale regimental attacks, and
heavy artillery and mortar fire from Chinese forces, earning 14 Silver Stars,
23 Bronze Stars, and 67 Purple Hearts, in operations that Major General Eugene
W. Ridings described as
highly successful in that the enemy was denied
the use of one of his best routes of approach into the friendly
For its extraordinary service during the Korean War, the Regiment received two Presidential Unit Citations (Army and Navy), two Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citations, a Meritorious Unit Commendation (Army), a Navy Unit Commendation, the Bravery Gold Medal of Greece, and campaign participation credits for United Nations Offensive, CCF Intervention, First United Nations Counteroffensive, CCF Spring Offensive, United Nations Summer-Fall Offensive, Second Korean Winter, Korea Summer-Fall 1952, Third Korean Winter, and Korea Summer 1953.
In Korea, soldiers in the Regiment earned a total of 10 Distinguished Service Crosses, approximately 250 Silver Stars, over 600 Bronze Stars, and more than 2,700 Purple Hearts, but—despite numerous individual acts of uncommon valor—no Medals of Honor.
In all, some 61,000 Puerto Ricans served in the United States Army during the Korean War, the bulk of them with the 65th Infantry Regiment—and over the course of the war, Puerto Rican soldiers suffered a disproportionately high casualty rate, with over 740 killed and over 2,300 wounded.
In April 1956, as part of the reduction in forces following the Korean War, the 65th Infantry Regiment was deactivated from the Regular Army and, in February 1959, became the only regular Army unit to have ever been transferred to the National Guard, when its 1st battalion and its regimental number were assigned to the Puerto Rico National Guard, where it has remained ever since.
In 1982, the United States Army Center of Military History officially authorized granting the 65th Infantry Regiment the special designation of Borinqueneers.
In the years since the Korean War, the achievements of the Regiment have been recognized in various ways, including—
the naming of streets in honor of the regiment in San Juan, Puerto Rico and The Bronx, New York;
the erecting of plaques and other monuments to honor the Regiment at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia; the San Juan National Historic Site in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Ft. Logan National Cemetery in Denver, Colorado; and at sites in Boston, Massachusetts and Ocala, Florida;
the renaming of a park in Buenaventura Lake, Florida as the 65th Infantry Veterans Park;
a grant awarded by the New York State government to establish a memorial honoring the Regiment at Buffalo Erie County Naval Military Park in Buffalo, New York;
the introduction or adoption of resolutions or proclamations honoring the Regiment by the City of Buffalo, New York; the City of Deltona, Florida; the City of Kissimmee, Florida; the City of Orlando, Florida; the City of Springfield, Massachusetts; the County of Erie, Pennsylvania; the Florida House of Representatives; the New York State Assembly; the New York State Senate; and the Texas State Senate; and
the 1985 issuance of a United States Postal Service Korean War Commemorative Stamp depicting soldiers from the Regiment.
In a speech
delivered at a September 20, 2000, ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in
honor of the Regiment, Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera said:
the 65th struggled against all deadly enemies in the field, they were fighting
a rearguard action against a more insidious adversary—the cumulative effects of
ill-conceived military policies, leadership shortcomings, and especially racial
and organizational prejudices, all exacerbated by America’s unpreparedness for
war and the growing pains of an Army forced by law and circumstance to carry
out racial integration. Together these factors would take their inevitable toll
on the 65th, leaving scars that have yet to heal for so many of the regiment’s
proud and courageous soldiers..
To the veterans of the 65th Infantry Regiment who, in that far off
land fifty years ago, fought with rare courage even as you endured misfortune
and injustice, thank you for doing your duty. There can be no greater praise
than that for any soldier of the United States Army..
[t]he men of the 65th who served in Korea are a significant
part of a proud tradition of service that includes the Japanese
American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the African-American Tuskegee Airmen,
many other unsung minority units throughout the history of our armed
forces whose stories have never been fully told..
The service of the men of the 65th Infantry Regiment is emblematic of the contributions to the armed forces that have been made by hundreds of thousands of brave and patriotic United States citizens from Puerto Rico over generations, from World War I to the most recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in other overseas contingency operations.
Congressional gold medal
The Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate shall make appropriate arrangements for the award, on behalf of the Congress, of a single gold medal of appropriate design in honor of the 65th Infantry Regiment, known as the Borinqueneers, in recognition of its pioneering military service, devotion to duty, and many acts of valor in the face of adversity.
Design and Striking
For the purposes of the award referred to in subsection (a), the Secretary of the Treasury (hereinafter in this Act referred to as the Secretary) shall strike the gold medal with suitable emblems, devices, and inscriptions, to be determined by the Secretary.
Following the award of the gold medal in honor of the 65th Infantry Regiment, known as the Borinqueneers, the gold medal shall be given to the Smithsonian Institution, where it will be displayed as appropriate and made available for research.
Sense of the Congress
It is the sense of the Congress that the Smithsonian Institution shall make the gold medal received under this Act available for display elsewhere, particularly at other appropriate locations associated with the 65th Infantry Regiment, including locations in Puerto Rico.
Under such regulations as the Secretary may prescribe, the Secretary may strike and sell duplicates in bronze of the gold medal struck under section 2, at a price sufficient to cover the costs of the medals, including labor, materials, dies, use of machinery, and overhead expenses.
Medals struck pursuant to this Act are national medals for purposes of chapter 51 of title 31, United States Code.
Authorization of appropriations; proceeds of sale
Authorization of Appropriations
There is authorized to be charged against the United States Mint Public Enterprise Fund such amounts as may be necessary to pay for the cost of the medals struck pursuant to this Act .
Proceeds of Sale
Amounts received from the sale of duplicate bronze medals under section 3 shall be deposited in the United States Mint Public Enterprise Fund.