The 65th Infantry Regiment, comprised primarily of Puerto Ricans, began as a volunteer regiment in 1899 and participated in WWI and WWII. It was during the Korean War, that they made their mark and saw extensive combat.
The 65th Infantry Regiment, nicknamed "The Borinqueneers" from the original Taíno name of the island (Borinquen), is a Puerto Rican regiment of the United States Army. The regiments motto is Honor et Fidelitas, Latin for Honor and Fidelity. The 65th Infantry Regiment participated in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and in what is known in the United States as the War on Terror.
Puerto Ricans have participated in many of the military conflicts in which the United States has been involved. For example, they participated in the American Revolution, when volunteers from Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Mexico fought the British in 1779 under the command of General Bernardo de Gálvez (1746–1786), and have continued to participate up to the present-day conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Puerto Rico became a U.S. Territory after the 1898 Treaty of Paris which ended the Spanish-American War. The United States appointed a military governor and soon the United States Army established itself in San Juan. The Army Appropriation Bill created by an act of Congress on 2 March 1898, authorized the creation of the first body of native troops in Puerto Rico. On 30 June 1901, the "Porto Rico Provisional Regiment of Infantry" was organized.
On 1 July 1901, the United States Senate passed a bill which would require a strict mental and physical examination for those who wanted to join the regiment. It also approved the recruitment of native Puerto Rican civilians to be appointed the grade of second lieutenants for a term of four years if they passed the required tests. An act of Congress, approved on 27 May 1908, reorganized the regiment as part of the "regular" Army. Since the native Puerto Rican officers were Puerto Rican citizens and not citizens of the United States, they were required to undergo a new physical examination to determine their fitness for commissions in the Regular Army and to take an oath of U.S. citizenship with their new officers oath. By January 30, 1917, the Porto Rico Regiment of Infantry was training in Camp Las Casas which was located in Santurce, a section of San Juan in what is now Residencial Las Casas.
World War I
Different units of the regiment were stationed at other forts throughout the island. Lieutenant Teofilo Marxuach, the officer of the day, was stationed at El Morro Castle at San Juan Bay on 21 March 1915. The Odenwald, built in 1903 (not to be confused with the German World War II war ship which carried the same name), was an armed German supply ship which tried to force its way out of the San Juan Bay and deliver supplies to the German submarines waiting in the Atlantic Ocean. Marxuach gave the order to open fire on the ship from the walls of the fort. Sergeant Encarnación Correa then manned a machine gun and fired warning shots with little effect.
Marxuach fired a warning shot from a cannon located at the Santa Rosa battery of El Morro fort, in what is considered to be the first shot of World War I fired by the regular armed forces of the United States against a ship flying the colors of the Central Powers, forcing the Odenwald to stop and to return to port where its supplies were confiscated.
The Odenwald was confiscated by the United States and renamed SS Newport News. It was assigned to the U.S. Shipping Board, where it served until 1924 when it was retired.Puerto Ricans were unaccustomed to the racial segregation policies of the United States which were also implemented in Puerto Rico and often refused to designate themselves as "white" or "black". Puerto Ricans of African descent were assigned to all black units. When the United States declared war against Germany, the Regiment was transferred to the regular Army and on 3 May 1917, recruited 1,969 men, considered at that time as war strength.
On 14 May 1917, the regiment was sent to Panama in defense of the Panama Canal Zone. The regiment returned to Puerto Rico on March 1919 and was renamed "The 65th Infantry Regiment" by the Reorganization Act of 4 June 1920. During this period a young Puerto Rican officer of the Regular Army, Major Luis R. Esteves, was sent to Camp Las Casas to serve as an instructor in the preparation of Puerto Rican officers. In the future, Esteves would become known as the "Father of the Puerto Rican National Guard".
World War II
In 1942 the 65th Infantry underwent an extensive training program and in 1943, it was sent to Panama to protect the Pacific and the Atlantic sides of the isthmus. On 25 November 1943, Colonel Antulio Segarra, proceeded Col. John R. Menclenhall as commander of the 65th Infantry, thus becoming the first Puerto Rican Regular Army officer to command a Regular Army regiment.In January 1944, the regiment was embarked for Jackson Barracks in New Orleans and later sent to Fort Eustis in Newport News, Virginia in preparation for overseas deployment to North Africa.
They also served in Casablanca after the Naval Battle of Casablanca, where the regiment underwent amphibious training. This enabled the 3rd Battalion to move on to Corsica, where it was attached to the 12th Air Force and tasked with guarding airfields.
On 22 September 1944, the 65th Infantry landed in France and was committed to action on the Maritime Alps at Peira Cava. On 13 December 1944, the 65th Infantry, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Juan César Cordero Dávila, relieved the 2nd Battalion of the 442nd Infantry Regiment, a regiment which was made up of Japanese Americans under the command of Col. Virgil R. Miller, a native of San Germán, Puerto Rico and former member of the 65th Infantry Regiment.
In December 1944, the 3rd Battalion faced the German 34th Infantry Division's 107th Grenadier Regiment. They suffered a total of forty seven battle casualties. The first two Puerto Ricans to be killed in action from the 65th Infantry were Pvt. Sergio Sánchez-Sánchez and Sgt. Ángel Martínez, from the town of Sabana Grande. On 18 March 1945, the regiment was sent to the District of Mannheim, Germany and assigned to Military Government activities, anti-sabotage and security missions. In all, the 65th Infantry participated in the campaigns of Rome-Arno, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace, and Central Europe. On 27 October 1945, the regiment sailed from France arriving at Puerto Rico on 9 November 1945.
On 27 August 1950, the 65th Infantry, with 3,920 officers and men organized into three infantry battalions, one artillery battalion and a tank company departed from Puerto Rico and arrived in Pusan, Korea on 23 September 1950. It was during the long sea voyage that the men nicknamed the 65th Infantry as the "Borinqueneers." The name is a combination of the words "Borinquen" (which was what the Taínos called the island before the arrival of the Spaniards) and "Buccaneers".
The men of the 65th, now attached to the Army's 3d Infantry Division, were among first infantrymen to meet the enemy on the battlefields of Korea. After November 1950, they fought daily against units of the Chinese People's Liberation Army after the Chinese entered the war on the North Korean side. One of the hardships suffered by the Puerto Ricans was the lack of warm clothing during the cold and harsh winters.
The enemy made many attempts to encircle the regiment, but each time they failed because of the many casualties inflicted by the 65th. The 65th was part of a task force which enabled the U.S. Marines to withdraw from the Chosin Reservoir on December 1950. When the Marines were encircled by the Chinese Communist troops close to the Manchurian border, they were ordered to retreat and worked their way back to Hungnam. The men of the 65th rushed to their defense and ordered to stay behind and fight the enemy. As a result, the Marines were able to withdraw to their ships with the 65th holding the rear guard. The 65th, attached to the 1st Marine Division, was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation for their defense and were among the last units to embark from Hungnam.Among the battles and operations in which the 65th participated was Operation Killer in January 1951, becoming the first regiment to cross the Han River in South Korea during the operation.
On April 1951, the regiment participated in the Uijonbu Corridor drives and on June 1951, the 65th was the third Regiment to cross the Han Ton River. The 65th was the regiment which took and held Chorwon and they were also instrumental in breaking the Iron Triangle of Hill 717 on July 1951. In November 1951, the regiment fought off an attack by two regimental size enemy units, with success. Colonel Juan César Cordero Dávila was named commander of 65th Infantry on 8 February 1952, thus becoming one of the highest ranking ethnic officers in the Army.
A total of 61,000 Puerto Ricans served in the military during the Korean War.The 65th Infantry was awarded battle participation credits for the following nine campaigns: UN Defense-1950, UN Offense-1950, CCF Intervention-1950, First UN Counterattack Offensive-1951, UN and CCF Spring Offensive-1951, UN Summer-Fall Offensive-1951, 2nd Korean Winter 1951–52, Korean Summer-Fall-1952 and 3rd Korean Winter-1952-53. They are credited with the last battalion-sized bayonet assault in U.S. Army history.
Ten Distinguished Service Crosses, 256 Silver Stars and 606 Bronze Stars for valor were awarded to the men of the 65th Infantry. Of the ten Distinguished Service Crosses that were awarded to the members of the 65th Infantry, five were awarded to Puerto Ricans:
Sergeant First Class Modesto Cartagena
Private Badel Hernández Guzmán
Master Sergeant Juan E. Negron (upgraded to the Medal of Honor)
Corporal Fabian Nieves Laguer
Master Sergeant Belisario Noriega
According to El Nuevo Día newspaper, 30 May 2004, a total of 756 Puerto Ricans lost their lives in Korea, from all four branches of the U.S. armed forces. However, according to "All POW-MIA Korean War Casualties", the total amount of Puerto Rican casualties in the Korean War was 732, meaning that one in every forty-two US casualties in the war was a Puerto Rican, however this total may vary slightly since some non-Puerto Ricans such as Captain James W. Conner were mistakenly included. Out of the 700 plus casualties suffered in the war a total of 121 men were listed as missing in action.The Battle of Outpost Kelly accounted for 73 of the men missing in action from the total of 121.Out of the 73 MIAs suffered by the regiment in the month of September 1952, 50 of them occurred on the same day, 18 September. For a list of names of those who were declared MIA, see: List of Puerto Ricans missing in action in the Korean War. According to the TAGOKOR Korean War Casualty File and the American Battle Commission site the members of the 65th who fought in Korea were awarded a total of 2,771 Purple Heart Medals. On 12 February 1951, General Douglas MacArthur, wrote in Tokyo:
The Puerto Ricans forming the ranks of the gallant 65th Infantry give daily proof on the battlefields of Korea of their courage, determination and resolute will to victory, their invincible loyalty to the United States and their fervent devotion to those immutable principles of human relations which the Americans of the Continent and of Puerto Rico have in common. They are writing a brilliant record of heroism in battle and I am indeed proud to have them under my command. I wish that we could count on many more like them.
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*(information extracted from wikipedia.org and republished with Creative Commons Deed)