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NEWS | June 25, 2014

Fabled 65th Infantry Regiment honored in Puerto Rico

By Sgt. Pablo Pantoja Puerto Rico National Guard

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - President Barack Obama signed a bill earlier this month awarding the members of Puerto Rico's 65th Infantry Regiment - the Borinqueneers - the Congressional Gold Medal.

The medal recognizes the contributions and extraordinary heroism of the men of the regiment, who served during a time of segregated units.

On June 24, the Puerto Rico National Guard and the adjutant general of Puerto Rico, Brig. Gen. Juan J. Medina Lamela, held a roundtable called The Borinqueneers: Then and Now: The Evolution of the 65th Infantry Regiment at the Joint Force Headquarters in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The meeting brought together the hallowed veteran Borinqueneers, former battalion commanders, and current members of the Puerto Rico National Guard's 65th Infantry Battalion, which currently serve as a CERFP (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and high-yield Explosive (CBRNE) Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP) unit, headquartered in Cayey, Puerto Rico.

At the meeting, teary-eyed Borinqueneers recounted some of their stories, while other veterans talked about the challenges they face today and warned future generations of forgetting the past.

"In October 1950, they sent me a letter, a telegram, 'report immediately to the 65th Infantry that leaves for Korea" said Higinio Garcia Colón. "They didn't let us see our family. We didn't even get a chance to say goodbye. We got shipped off immediately."

On the other hand, the current members of the admired unit also had an opportunity to express how the mission had evolved into its current CERFP role, but continue to carry within, the ardent passion to confront the challenges ahead.

In its 55-year history, the 65th has also been mobilized to the Horn of Africa, Guantanamo Bay, and is currently serving a role in CERFP providing incident site search capability of damaged buildings, rescuing trapped casualties, providing decontamination, and performing medical triage and initial treatment to stabilize patients for transport to medical facilities.

Plans are underway for the construction of Borinqueneers Plaza in honor of the 65th Infantry Regiment at Camp Santiago Joint Maneuver Training Center, Salinas, Puerto Rico where the Puerto Rico National Guard holds their annual training.

The Borinqueneers (bohr-ehn-kin-'EERS), as they are known, were comprised of Puerto Rican troops that endured segregation akin to the Tuskegee Airmen, the Navajo Code Talkers, and the Japanese-American WW II veterans, all which had already received the medal.

"You were away from your families, in a time where you couldn't text or send an email. Everything was with paper and pencil and you didn't know when the letter was going to get there and returned. Some sent a letter but by the time the family received it, they were no longer among us," said Medina Lamela.

During the Korean War the 65th was received 2,771 Purple Hearts and 750 were killed in action while over 120 were missing in action.

"In World War I, they defended the homeland and patrolled the Panama Canal Zone. In World War II, they fought in Europe. In Korea, they fought in mud and snow. They are the 65th Infantry Regiment, U.S. Army," said President Obama during the signing ceremony.

The Congressional Gold Medal is awarded when the recipient has "performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient's field long after the achievement" according to the Congressional Research Service, a legislative branch agency within the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

The Borinqueneers is a nickname that comes from "Borinquén", a name given to the island of Puerto Rico by the first inhabitants, the Taínos, before the Spanish colonization.

The names of the Borinqueneers who attended are: Rafael Gomez Hernandez, Higinio Garcia Colon, German Bravo Perez, Pablo Delgado Medina, Miguel A. Rodriguez Colon, Julio Burgos Santiago, Federico Simmons Pedraza, Orlando Hernandez Lopez,and Miguel Piñero Rivera.

Roberto Clemente, the professional baseball player from Major League is the only other Hispanic to receive the Congressional Gold Medal.