In the 1770s, while still under Spanish rule, Puerto Rican soldiers joined General Bernardo de Gálvez, Governor of Louisiana, in support of the American Revolutionary War. Having sent funds and supplies to the rebels in 1776, de Galvez mustered a multicultural force and led them into battles in Baton Rouge, Natchez, Mobile, and Pensacola. Puerto Rico was also the site of the Battle of San Juan, in which British and German forces were defeated by Puerto Rican and Spanish troops.
There is no official count of these soldiers. Puerto Rican soldiers fought in the Civil War, too. They were usually identified as Spanish, not as Puerto Rican, since Puerto Rico was still a Spanish colony at the time.
In 1899, following the Spanish-American War and Puerto Rico’s cession from Spain to the United States, the “Porto Rico Regiment of Infantry, United States Army” was created. This all-volunteer group was approved by the U.S. Congress on May 27, 1908, and eventually evolved into the Borinqueneers.
When Puerto Ricans became citizens of the United States in 1917, a battalion was sent to defend the Panama Canal. Lieutenant Teofilo Marxuach fired the first shot of World War I in the United States. Puerto Rican volunteers even fought under French command. Again, the specific numbers in these early efforts were not collected, but the Department of Defense reports that 18,000 Puerto Ricans fought in World War I.
65,000 fought in World War II. 61,000 fought in the Korean War. 48,000 fought in Vietnam, 10,000 in the Gulf War, and 38,000 in Iraq.
Now a new report from the Congressional Research Service has calculated the full number of casualties as accurately as possible.
Among soldiers from Puerto Rico, these are the official casualties:
- Total wounded = 392
- Total fatalities = 1,559
- Total casualties = 1,951
As the Hurricane Maria death toll has shown, it is difficult to get accurate numbers. These official numbers, however, show that Puerto Rico has made sacrifices for her nation, the United States, for more than a century.