April 13th, 2021, is the first national Borinqueneers Day. The national holiday was proclaimed by Congress earlier this year.
A ceremony honoring this day took place at Puerto Rican Veterans Memorial in Boston’s South End on Saturday.
Many events led up to the celebration. On April 13th, 2016, the Borinqueneers received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor awarded by Congrsss. This took place after years of work to gain recognition for the work of the Borinqueneers.
Who were the Borinqueneers?
The Borinqueneers were a highly-decorated batallion created during World War I. Officially known as the 65th Infantry Regiment, the battalion included some Hispanic immigrants but was a historically Puerto Rican regiment.
At that time, the U.S. Army was segregated, as were schools and many other institutions in the United States. The Borinqueneers were one of only two recorded Latino segregated units in the the Army’s history. The other was the Puerto Rico Women’s Army Corps Unit. Puerto Rican soldiers served in other units, including the Tuskeegee Airmen, as did other Hispanic soldiers, but the Borinqueneers was primarily made up of Puerto Rican soldiers.
Other segregated units, including the Navajo Code Talkers, the Japanese American soldiers of World War II, and the Tuskegee Airmen, were awarded the Congressional Medal before the Borinqueneers.
But the Borinqueneers were one of the oldest of the segregated units.
Battalion of Porto Rican Volunteers
The Borinqueneers were first organized in 1899 as the Battalion of Porto Rican Volunteers. Puerto Ricans had fought in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, as volunteers in other battalions, but this was the first Puerto Rican battalion. They were considered colonial troops at the time, as the United States was flirting with the idea of becoming an empire.
In 1908, they were brought into the U.S. Army as the Porto Rican Regiment. During World War I, they fought for the United States in Panama. In 1920, they were renamed the 65th Infantry Regiment.
During World War II, they fought in Europe and in North Africa. Having been limited in their military action during WWII, the Borinqueneers were a well-trained group ready for combat when the Korean War broke out.
During the Korean War, in spite of controversy, the Borinqueneers became legendary heroes. As a unit, they collected 10 Distinguished Service Crosses, 256 Silver Stars, 606 Bronze Stars, and 2,771 Purple Hearts.
End of segregation
Between 1954 and 1956, the Borinqueneers were transformed into a part of the Puerto Rican National Guard.
Segregation in the military officially ended in 1948, when President Truman signed Executive Order 9981. However, implementation of the change took time, as schools and universities, transportation systems and restaurants became desegregated across the nation.
The Boriinqueneers and their long and valiant service continue to be a point of pride for Puerto Ricans in spite of the many men and women from Puerto Rico who have served in the modern U.S.Army since their time.
Their national day commemorates their service under the difficult circumstances of segregation.