A segregated all-Puerto Rican U.S. Army regiment on the front lines from World War I through the Korean conflict was finally honored for its service on Wednesday.
The 65th Infantry Regiment, known as the Borinqueneers, were recognized at a Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony just as the House debated a bill that sought to rescue Puerto Rico from its $72 billion debt crisis.
“This medal is long, long overdue,” Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., said in opening the event. The speaker on Wednesday publicly endorsed the bailout bill, which is facing criticism from conservatives.
In a bipartisan effort, Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., sponsored legislation in the Senate to award the gold medal and President Barack Obama signed it into law in 2014. Many surviving Borinqueneers were in the audience.
Noting the bipartisanship of the bill, Blumenthal said, “there are very few magic moments in this place and this is one of them. The Borinqueneers remind us that their journey and ours will never end as long as we tolerate discrimination.”
Rubio received a resounding applause from the audience, where a few Puerto Rican flags were waved. The veterans in the crowd sang along as the Army band played “La Borinqueña,” the anthem of Puerto Rico.
In her remarks, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said, “You were out there fighting for freedom while being deprived of it at home.” She mentioned the vitality of Latino-Americans in the military today to protect national security.
“You wrote a new chapter of heroism in our shared legacy,” Pelosi said.
During the war in Korea, members of the regiment earned nine Distinguished Service Crosses, approximately 250 Silver Stars, more than 600 Bronze Stars, and more than 2,700 Purple Hearts.
Also in attendance were Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald, Acting Secretary of the Army Patrick J. Murphy, Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico Pedro R. Pierluisi and Rep. Bill Posey, R-Fla.