The Department of Defense has spotlighted Puerto Rico’s participation in the U.S. Military with an article bringing out the details of the territory’s military service since World War I.
“I’m super-proud of my heritage,” the article quotes retired Marine Corps 1st Sgt. Ildelfonso “Pancho” Colon Jr. as saying. “Like any soldier from Texas who loves his Texas flag and loves his state, Puerto Ricans, we love our flag, we love our state — we call it a state. I’ve wanted to be a soldier all my life. It’s so motivational being around all of these veterans. We’re proud Americans. We love our country, but we love Puerto Rico, too.”
The men and women of Puerto Rico have served in U.S. wars from the Revolutionary War and the Civil War on. Since becoming U.S. citizens in 1917, Puerto Ricans have served in disproportionate numbers relative to their population within the U.S.
Even under Spanish rule, Puerto Ricans fought alongside American colonists in the Revolutionary War. The U.S. Department of Defense states that a southern troop — consisting primarily of Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics — captured the cities of Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Mobile, Alabama; Pensacola, Florida; and St. Louis, Missouri, from the British.
The first U.S. shot of World War I was fired in Puerto Rico by Army Lt. Teofilo Marxuach. He was on duty at the famous El Morro Castle, at the entrance to San Juan Bay, when war was declared. An armed supply ship for German submarines attempted to make navigate out of the bay, and Marxuach opened fire from behind the walls of the fortress, forcing the ship to return to port.
In April, 2016, the Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to the U.S. Army’s 65th Infantry Regiment, the Borinqueneers. Upon passage of the legislation, Congressman Bill Posey (R-FL) explained, “The Borinqueneers participated in some of the fiercest battles of Korean War and awarding such a high honor is an appropriate way to show our gratitude to these heroes for their bravery, their service and their sacrifices. They are part of a proud tradition of service in the face of adversity that includes the Tuskegee Airmen, Montford Point Marines, Navajo Code Talkers and the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team – all of whom have already received the Congressional Gold Medal.”
Pedro Pierluisi, the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico from 2009 to 2017, also spoke movingly of the need to honor the Borinqueneers:
Between 1950 and 1953, the 65th Infantry Regiment participated in some of the fiercest battles of the Korean War, and its toughness, courage and loyalty earned the admiration of those who had previously harbored reservations about Puerto Rican soldiers based on stereotypes. In the face of unique challenges, the men of the 65th Infantry Regiment served our nation with great skill and tremendous grace.
How many Puerto Ricans have served in the U.S. military since 1917?
- WW I – 18,000
- WW II – 65,000
- Korean – 61,000
- Vietnam – 48,000
- Gulf – 10,000
- Enduring & Iraqi Freedom – 25,000
- National Guard in 2014 – 8,400+
- Veterans in PR – 100,000+
Since the Korean War, 1,131 Puerto Ricans have died in military service. The names of many of these heroes are inscribed on El Monumento de la Recordacion, the Monument of Remembrance, in San Juan.
Yet these patriotic citizens cannot vote for their Commander in Chief.
Puerto Rico is not a state, but a territory of the United States. Americans vote for the president as individuals, but it is the states, in the form of the Electoral College, which actually elect the president. Without statehood, Puerto Rico doesn’t get to participate. People who leave Puerto Rico and live in a state can immediately register to vote, and Puerto Rican voters are often very influential in presidential campaigns, particularly in Florida. The residents of Puerto Rico, however, cannot vote.