65th Infantry Regiment was the last active duty segregated Latino unit in U.S. history
Congressman Brian Higgins announced House of Representatives approval of H.R. 1726, a bill awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the 65th Infantry Regiment, known as the Borinqueneers. Higgins is a cosponsor of the bill, recognizing the service and commitment of these U.S. Army members who served in the segregated Hispanic unit during World Wars I and II, as well as the Korean War.
"The Borinqueneers motto 'Honor et Fidelitas,' which is Latin for honor and fidelity, provides a fitting illustration of what these service members truly represented," Higgins said. "Members of the 65th Infantry were sacrificing everything for a nation not yet embracing their own equal rights. This bill provides formal recognition and gratitude for their loyalty, dedication and service."
The Borinqueeneer division was born shortly after U.S. acquisition of Puerto Rico and rededicated as the 65th Infantry Regiment of the Army in 1920. In 1948, President Truman, by executive order, directed desegregation of the armed forces. However, full implementation of the policy was not yet in place when many of the service members were sent into conflict during the Korean War.
Casimiro D. Rodriguez Sr., a member of the National Borinqueneers Congressional Gold Medal Alliance and chairman of the Hispanic Heritage Council of Western New York Inc., added, "For Puerto Ricans and Hispanics all across our nation, it is a very proud moment to see this long-overdue recognition bestowed on our fellow veterans of the 65th Infantry Regiment and their surviving families. Locally, we have several members of our community that will be recipients of this prestigious award.
"Furthermore, it is more rewarding to our local community that close to the first anniversary of the unveiling of the WNY Hispanic American Veterans Memorial Monument located at the Buffalo & Naval Military Park in honor of all WNY Hispanic American Veterans where at the top of the monument ellipse a special tribute to the 65th Infantry Regiment and Gabriel A. Rodriguez Post is proudly displayed. For WNY's Hispanic community, we could not be prouder for this national connection to these latest developments"
The contributions of the Borinqueneers and other Hispanic service members are already recognized locally thanks to the work of the Hispanic American Veterans of Western New York memorial committee who just last summer unveiled a new memorial near the Naval and Military Park along Buffalo's waterfront. An extension of remarks entered into the congressional record by Higgins last year recognized the Borinqueneers and the work of local organizations (http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?r113:E14JN3-0006:/).
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award given by Congress. It is awarded to those who have performed an achievement that has impacted American history and culture. Others receiving the medal include, but are not limited to: George Washington in 1776, Rosa Parks in 1999, Pope John Paul II in 2000, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King in 2004, the Tuskegee Airmen in 2006 and the victims of 9/11 in 2011. Since its inception in 1776, the Congressional Gold Medal has been awarded to only one Latino American: baseball legend Roberto Clemente in 1973.
The bill will now move to the U.S. Senate for consideration and approval.