Languished Senate Efforts may Jeopardize Congressional Recognition for the ‘Borinqueneers’ Veterans from Puerto Rico
ORLANDO, Florida – December 17, 2013 – (HISPANICIZE WIRE) – The historic Congressional Gold Medal (CGM) distinction for the 65th Infantry Regiment “Borinqueneers” may be in jeopardy due to languished outreach efforts by the eight Senator original sponsors of the “Borinqueneers” CGM Senate companion Bill (S. 1174).
“We earnestly request the eight senators who signed up for the Borinqueneers CGM Bill and their staffers to aggressively and proactively seek more support and co-sponsors among their Senate colleagues”
Similar in nature to the famed Tuskegee Airmen and other segregated U.S. military units, the 65th Infantry Regiment “Borinqueneers” were the only active-duty segregated Latino military unit in U.S. history. Like the Tuskegee Airmen, Navajo Code Talkers, Nisei Soldiers, and Montford Point Marines who’ve already been rightfully recognized with the Congressional Gold Medal, the Borinqueneers overwhelmingly distinguished themselves in battle all the while enduring the additional hardships of segregation, institutional prejudice, language barriers and other unusual obstacles.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the nation’s highest civilian award and it is equivalent to the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Out of 155 CGM recipients since 1776, only one other Latino American has earned the prestigious distinction. Roberto Clemente, Baseball Hall-of-Famer and humanitarian, received the honor in 1973 regrettably after passing away in an airplane crash while delivering food and other supplies to then earthquake ravished Nicaragua victims.
However, this auspicious honor may be not happen for the 65th Infantry if efforts from a group of eight senators do not intensify and thus rally more co-sponsors for the “Borinqueneers” CGM Senate companion Bill (S. 1174).
The 65th Infantry Congressional Gold Medal legislation, Bill S. 1174, was introduced on June 18th by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and originally co-sponsored by seven other Senators all coined the 65th Infantry CGM “Gang of Eight”. These are: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn), Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).
Up until now, Bill S. 1174 counts on only 22 Senate co-sponsors, about one-third of the necessary minimum total Senate co-sponsors (67) to satisfy the rigorous Congressional Gold Medal requirements.
In sharp contrast, however, the House version of the 65th Infantry CGM Bill, sponsored by Rep. Pedro Pierluisi (D-Puerto Rico) and Rep. Bill Posey (R-Florida), is steadily ratcheting momentum recently surpassing two-thirds of the total required minimum House co-sponsors with just over 200 co-sponsors.
The Borinqueneers CGM Alliance, a nationwide, non-partisan, grassroots group, is spearheading the charge to ensure that the 65th Infantry Regiment is memorialized through the CGM.
The alliance’s national chair, Frank Medina, a West Point graduate and Iraq War veteran, along with many volunteers around the nation, are coordinating intense efforts this coming year with the purpose of encouraging individuals and organizations to advocate Members of Congress for more co-sponsors.
Frank Medina, states, “We earnestly request the eight senators who signed up for the Borinqueneers CGM Bill and their staffers to aggressively and proactively seek more support and co-sponsors among their Senate colleagues. Not enough has been done up to this date to advance the Senate bill…More can be done to rally more Senate co-sponsors…A concerted, serious Senate outreach effort among the 65th Infantry ‘Gang of Eight’ remains to be seen…”
If the minimum amount of co-sponsors in both chambers of Congress is not achieved by the end of the 113th Congress, the 65th Infantry Bills will have to be re-introduced in the 114th Congress and the whole daunting CGM process of rallying co-sponsors will start over as the cumulative amount of co-sponsors will not carry over from the previous Congress.
Although comprised mainly of Puerto Ricans, during the Korean War, the Borinqueneers also included some Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, Filipinos, Virgin Islanders, and several other nationalities. Interestingly, our nation’s first and only Latino 4-Star Army general, Richard E. Cavazos, a Mexican-American, got his start as a young Borinqueneer officer in Korea. There he earned his first of two Distinguished Service Crosses, our nation’s second highest honor for individual heroism.
Some highlight accomplishments of the Borinqueneers include: 1) credited with the last battalion-sized bayonet assault in US military history and 2) valiantly defended the rear-guard of the retreating 1st Marine Division in one of the epic military withdrawals of history and were the last ones to board the retreating ships at Hungnam.
It was General Douglas Mac MacArthur who praised his segregated unit for their Korean War accomplishments saying, “I wish we had more like them…”
Medina also urges all individuals residing in the states of the 65th Infantry CGM “Gang of Eight” senators to press their senators for greater urgency in procuring more support for the Senate CGM legislation.
Medina states, “Along with honoring the Borinqueneer veterans, the Congressional Gold Medal will be the highest award ever for ALL Latino Veterans. This distinction will catapult Hispanic veterans into the national spotlight and will honor all Hispanic veterans past, present and future. If we do not act decisively now, we may never have this opportunity again. We must not let the 65th Infantry Regiment be a fading footnote in American history.”
Among the national organizations supporting this important initiative are League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), American GI Forum (AGIF), Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH), and National Puerto Rican Coalition (NPRC), Association of the US Army (AUSA), National Guard Association of the US (NGAUS) and the Blind Veterans Association (BVA).
More information on the Borinqueneers CGM Alliance and how to help the 65th Infantry CGM initiative can be found at: www.65thCGM.org. Executive sponsor of the alliance is You Are Strong! Center on Veterans Health and Human Services.