Saluting Puerto Rican military service

President Barack Obama leads an ovation after he signed H.R. 1726, awarding a Congressional Gold Medal to the 65th Infantry Regiment, known as the Borinqueneers, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building South Court Auditorium, June 10, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon) via Wikimedia Commons

 

BY C. PINEDA, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – The Broward Bar Association hosted a virtual public event entitled Puerto Rico: Presente, A Salute to Puerto Rican Service in the U.S. Military on Nov. 11 in commemoration of Veterans Day.

“It’s in our DNA to be patriotic, to be proud of being Puerto Rican and American too, and we’ve contributed so much to this country,” said moderator and originator of the event, Braulio Rosa.  “It’s not a story that’s often told,” he added.

Co-moderator Solimar Rodriquez opened the chronological conversation of Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans involved in the armed forces starting with their subjugation as a colony of Spain from 1493 to the present day U.S. territory.

Click to enlarge image – Old campaign poster for Gold Medal recognition. Source: Frank Medina, CC BY-SA 2.5

The event highlighted the 100-year history of Puerto Ricans, also called Boricuas, in the armed forces.

“Borinquen is Puerto Rico. Our natives called the island Borikén, which was later changed to Borinquen. This is why Puerto Ricans are also called Boricuas,” explained Rodriquez.

He said that in 1898, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam were ceded to the U.S. during the Treaty of Paris after the Spanish-American War.  In 1917, Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship via the Jones Act, shortly before the America joined WWI.

The first guest speaker, retired Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Deliz, who is currently the president of the Veterans Commission of the Colegio de Abogados y Abogadas de Puerto Rico, took the audience through the early history of Puerto Ricans in the armed services.

Deliz emphasized that Puerto Ricans have been involved in fighting for the U.S. in every battle since 1898. Before 1898, under Spanish rule, the Puerto Ricans fought in all the Spanish wars from the mid-1500s to 1898.

Deliz detailed the 65th Infantry Regiment history, which started as the Porto Rico Provisional Regiment of Infantry in 1901. It was the only segregated body of the military for native Puerto Ricans. The unit was later desegregated in 1953.

The milestones of the Borinqueneers, as the 65th Infantry Regiment was called, were highlighted by Deliz, particularly the pivotal role they played during the Korean War.

“Puerto Ricans suffered in Korea,” stated Deliz. The troops were supplied with inadequate gear to protect them from the elements. According to Deliz, they fought heroically amid the harsh realities of segregation, language barriers and outdated equipment.

Throughout their continued participation in the U.S. military, it was not until the grassroots volunteer group, Borinqueneers Congressional Gold Medal Alliance, pushed to get gold-medal recognition for their acts of valor and heroism.

The efforts of the Borinqueneers Congressional Gold Medal Alliance paid off. In 2014, the courage and heroism of the 65th Infantry Regiment was recognized as President Barack Obama awarded them the Congressional Gold Medal.

Guest speaker Florida attorney Juan Garcia, Esq., who is also a retired colonel of the U.S. Army, talked about the importance of service and loyalty to the country as the story of being Puerto Rican.

“The story of Puerto Rico is one of struggle. Struggle for self-determination, struggle for respect, for being treated as an equal,” said Garcia.  “Military service has always afforded an avenue for Puerto Rican enfranchisement, politically and socio-economically.”

According to Garcia, this tradition of service endures to the present day. After growing up hearing the stories of his uncle and grandfather talking about their service in the 65th Infantry Regiment, he joined the military.

Garcia emphasized the importance of Puerto Rican women who carry on the legacy of service in the armed service. “Today, when we talk about Puerto Ricans, we talk more broadly about men and women, all of us collectively,” states Garcia.

Rosa closed out the event by saying, “Thank you to all the veterans out there. I felt that this one time, it was nice to recognized mi gente. We’re American; our story hasn’t been told. So, this was one way of doing that.”

The event was organized by the Broward County Bar Association, Broward County Hispanic Bar Association, Hispanic National Bar Association, and the Puerto Rican Bar Association of Florida and Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico.

To reach C. Pineda, email cpineda@theweeklychallenger.com

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