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Tony Santiago, a.k.a. "Tony the Marine," is the Editor of our Puerto Rican Medal of Honor Channel and Puerto Rican Military History Channel. He is a writer and administrator for Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, specializing in Puerto Rican related topics. email
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Puerto Rican Korean War hero dies on March 2.
Sergeant First Class Modesto Cartagena (July 21, 1921-March 2, 2010), was a soldier who served in the 65th Infantry Regiment, an all-Puerto Rican regiment also known as "The Borinqueneers", during World War II and the Korean War. He was the most decorated Puerto Rican soldier in history.
Cartagena was raised in the mountains of Cayey, Puerto Rico to a poor family during the Great Depression. Cartagena enlisted in the U. S. Army in San Juan and was assigned to the 65th Infantry, which was also known as the Borinqueneers, because it was made up entirely of Puerto Rican enlisted men, a segregated unit. Read more.
Monday, May 26, 2008, I was publicly recognized by the Government of Puerto
Rico as a Historian who has written the biographies of prominent Puerto
Ricans who have served in the military. I was invited to the Puerto Rican
Capitol Building and in the presence of my wife Milagros, members of the
Puerto Rican Senate and the Camera, was presented with a gift by the President
of the Puerto Rican Senate, the Honorable Kenneth McClintock. Also, present
in my recognition was the former President of the United States Bill Clinton
and his wife, New York State Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Brigadier
General Hector Pagan, the Deputy Commanding General of the United States
Army Special Warfare Center and School, presented me with a medal of excellence.
I was also recognized in speech given by Mr. De La Luce, in representation
of Luis G. Fortuño, the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico to
the United States Congress, during the ceremonies held in front of the
Capital Building in which the names of Puerto Rico's fallen soldiers were
unveiled. When McClintock made his speech and mentioned my name, he made
me stand up and I received the applause of those present.
Puerto Ricans who had obtained U.S. citizenship as a result of the signing of the Jones-Shafroth Act on March 2, 1917 were expected to serve in the military if they met the required qualifications. When a Japanese carrier fleet launched an unexpected air attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Puerto Ricans were required to bear arms in defense of the United States. During World War II, over 53,000 Puerto Ricans served within the U.S. military. Soldiers from the island, serving in the 65th Infantry Regiment, participated in combat in the European Theater - in Germany and Central Europe. Those who resided in the mainland of the United States were assigned to regular units of the military and served either in the European or Pacific theaters of the war. In some cases they were subject to the racial discrimination which at that time was widespread in the United States.
For the first time, Puerto Rican women were permitted to become members of the military. Their options were restricted to either as nurses or in administrative positsions. It would also be the first time that some of the island's men would play an active role as commanders.
The military did not keep statistics in regard to the total number of Hispanics who served in the regular units of the Armed Forces and therefore, it is impossible to determine the exact amount of Puerto Ricans who served in World War II.
Leadup to World War II
During that period of time, Puerto Rico's
economy was suffering from the consequences of the Great Depression
and unemployment was widespread. Unemployment was one the reasons
that some Puerto Ricans choose to join the Armed Forces.
In 1943, there were approximately 17,000 Puerto Ricans under arms, including the 65th Infantry Regiment and the Puerto Rico National Guard. The Puerto Rican units were stationed either in Puerto Rico or in the Virgin Islands.
France's possessions in the Caribbean began to protest against the Vichy government in France, a government backed up by the Germans who invaded France. The island of Martinique was on the verge of civil war. The United States organized a joint Army-Marine Corps task force, which included the 295th Infantry (minus one battalion) and the 78th Engineer Battalion, both from Puerto Rico for the occupation of Martinique. The use of these infantry units were put on hold because Martinique's local government decided to turn over control of the colonies to the French Committee of National Liberation.
In 1943, the 65th Infantry was sent to Panama to protect the Pacific and the Atlantic sides of the isthmus. The 295th Infantry Regiment followed in 1944, departing from San Juan, Puerto Rico to the Panama Canal Zone. Among those who served with the 295th Regiment in the Panama Canal Zone was a young Second Lieutenant by the name of Carlos Betances Ramirez, who one day become the only Puerto Rican to command a Battalion in the Korean War.That same year, the 65th Infantry was sent to North Africa, arriving at Casablanca, where they underwent further training. By April 29, 1944, the Regiment had landed in Italy and moved on to Corsica.
On September 22, 1944, the 65th Infantry landed in France and was committed to action on the Maritime Alps at Peira Cava. The 3rd Battalion, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Juan Cesar Cordero Davila, fought against and defeated Germany's 34th Infantry Division's 107th Infantry Regiment. There were 47 battle casualties, including Sergeant Angel Martinez from the town of Sabana Grande who became the first Puerto Rican to be killed in action from the 65th Infantry. On March 18, 1945, the regiment was sent to the District of Mannheim and assigned to military occupation duties. The regiment suffered a total of 23 soldiers killed in action. 
On January 12, 1944, the 296th Infantry Regiment departed from Puerto Rico to the Panama Canal Zone. On April 1945, the unit returned to Puerto Rico and soon after was sent to Honolulu, Hawaii. The 296th arrived on June 25, 1944 and was attached to the Central Pacific Base Command at Kahuku Air Base.
Puerto Ricans who were fluent in English
or who resided in the mainland were assigned to regular Army units.
Such was the case of Sgt. First Class Louis Ramirez who was assigned
to the 102nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, Mechanized, which landed
at Normandy on D Day (Battle of Normandy), June 6 and advanced into
France during the Battle of Saint Malo, where they were met by enemy
tanks, bombs and soldiers. PFC Fernando Pagan was also a Puerto Rican
who resided in the mainland and who was assigned to unit Company A,
293 Combat Engineering Battalion which arrived in Normandy on June
10, four days after D-Day. Others, like Frank Bonilla, were assigned
to the 290th Infantry Regiment, 75th Infantry Division, which later
fought at the Battle of the Bulge. Bonilla was the recipient of the
Silver Star and Purple Heart medals for his actions in combat. One
Puerto Rican who earned a Bronze Star Medal in the Battle of the Bulge
was PFC Joseph A. Unanue, whose father was the founder of Goya Foods.
Unanue had trained for armored infantry and went to the European Theater
as a gunner in A company, 63rd Armored Infantry Battalion, 11th Armored
Division. His company landed in France in December of 1944, just before
the Battle of the Bulge. 
PFC. Santos Deliz was assigned to Battery D, 216 AAA, a gun battalion, and sent to Africa in 1943 to join General George S. Patton's Third Army. According to Deliz, Patton demanded the best from all under him, including cooks and kitchen hands Deliz once recounted an experience which he had with General Patton: "[Patton] went in to inspect [and] he scolded me because I had rations over the amount I should've had. The rations were food the GIs didn't want, so instead of dumping it, I sometimes gave it to the people who were around there." Deliz was the recipient of a Bronze Star Medal.
Some Puerto Ricans served in the Army Air Corps. Among those who served in the Army Air Corps were Captain Mihiel "Mike" Gilormini and T/Sgt Clement Resto.
Captain Mihiel "Mike" Gilormini served in the Royal Air Force and in Army Air Corps during World War II. He was a flight commander whose last combat mission was attacking the airfield at Milano, Italy. His last flight in Italy gave air cover for General George C. Marshall's visit to Pisa. He was the recipient of the Silver Star Medal, the Air Medal with four clusters and the Distinguished Flying Cross 5 times. Gilormini later became the Founder of the Puerto Rico Air National Guard and retired as Brigadier General.
T/Sgt Clement Resto served with the 303rd Bomb Group and participated in numerous bombing raids over Germany. During a bombing mission over Duren, Germany, Resto's plane, a B-17, was shot down . He was captured by the Gestapo and sent to Stalag XVII-B where spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war. Resto, who lost an eye during his last mission, was awarded a Purple Heart, a POW Medal and an Air Medal with one battle star after he was liberated from captivity.
Dwight D. Eisenhower s theater headquarters. Tech4 Carmen Contreras-Bozak, a member of this unit, was the first Hispanic to serve in the U.S. Women's Army Corps as an interpreter and in numerous administrative positions.  
Another was Lieutenant Maria Rodriguez Denton, who was the first known woman of Puerto Rican descent who became an officer in the United States Navy as member of the WAVES. The Navy assigned LTJG Denton as a library assistant at the Cable and Censorship Office in New York City. It was Lt. Denton who forwarded the news (through channels) to President Harry S. Truman that the war had ended.
Puerto Rican commanders
Rear Admiral Frederick Lois Riefkohl , who was the Captain of the USS Vincennes, was assigned to the Fire Support Group, LOVE (with Transport Group XRAY) under the command of Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner's Task Force TARE (Amphibious Force) during the landing in the Solomon Islands on August 7, 1942..
Prior to World War II, Rear Admiral Jose M. Cabanillas served aboard various cruisers, destroyers and submarines. In 1942, upon the outbreak of World War II, he was assigned Executive Officer of the USS Texas (BB-35). The Texas Participated in the invasion of North Africa. by destroying ammunition dump near Port Lyautey. Cabanillas also participated in the invasion of Normandy on D-day.
Rear Admiral Edmund Ernest Garcia was
the commander of the Destroyer USS Sloat and saw action in the invasions
of North Africa, Sicily and France.
Captain Marion Frederic Ramirez de Arellano was a submarine commander in the Navy who was awarded two Silver Star Medals, the Legion of Merit, and a Bronze Star Medal for his actions against the Japanese Imperial Navy. Not only is he credited with the sinking of at least two Japanese ships, but he also led the rescue of the lives of numerous downed Navy pilots.
Rear Admiral Rafael Celestino Benitez, who was at the time a Lieutenant Commander, saw action aboard submarines and on various occasions Weathered depth charge attacks. For his actions, he was awarded the Silver and Bronze Star Medals. Benitez would later play an important role in the first American undersea spy mission of the cold war as commander of the submarine USS Cochino in what became known as the "Cochino Incident".
Colonel Jaime Sabater, during WWII, commanded
the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines during the Bouganville amphibious operations.
During World War II, the United States Army was segregated. Puerto Ricans who resided in the mainland and who were fluent in English served alongside their "White" counterparts. "Black" Puerto Ricans were assigned to units made up mostly of African-Americans. The vast majority of the Puerto Ricans from the island served in Puerto Rico's segregated units, like the 65th Infantry and the Puerto Rico National Guard's 285th and 296th regiments. Racial discrimination practiced against Hispanic Americans, including Puerto Ricans in the United States East coast and Mexican-Americans in California and the Southwest was widespread. Some Puerto Ricans who served in regular Army units were witnesses to the racial discrimination of the day.
In an interview, PFC Raul Rios Rodriguez said that during his basic training at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, he had encountered a strict drill instructor who was particularly harsh on the Hispanic and black soldiers in his unit. He stated that he remains resentful of the discriminatory treatment that Latino and black soldiers received during basic training. We were all soldiers; we were all risking our lives for the United States. That should have never been done, Never." Rios Rodriguez was shipped to Le Havre, France, assigned to guard bridges and supply depots in France and Germany with the 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division.
Another soldier, PFC Felix López-Santos
was drafted into the Army and sent to Fort Dix in New Jersey for training.
López -Santos went to Milne Bay and then to the small island
of Woodlark, both in New Guinea, where he was in the communications
department using telephone wires to communicate to the troop during
the war. In an interview, López-Santos
stated that in North Carolina he witnessed some forms of racial discrimination,
but never experienced it for himself. He stated "I remember seeing
some colored people refused service at a restaurant," López
-Santos said. "I believe that I was not discriminated against
because of my blue eyes and fair complexion."
Post World War II
On October 27, 1945, the 65th Infantry who had participated in the battles of Naples-Fogis, Rome-Arno, central Europe and of the Rhineland sailed home from France. Arriving at Puerto Rico on November 9, 1945, they were received by the local population as National heroes and given a victorious reception at the Military Terminal of Camp Buchanan. The 295th Regiment returned on February 20, 1946 from the Panama Canal Zone and the 296th Regiment on March 6. Both regiments were awarded the American Theatre streamer (The 295th was also awarded the Pacific Theatre streamer) and were inactivated that same year.
Many of the men and women who were discharged
after the war returned to their civilian jobs or made use of the educational
benefits of the G.I. Bill. Others, such as Major General Juan Cesar
Cordero Davila, Colonel Carlos Betances Ramirez, Sergeant First Class
Agustin Ramos Calero and Master Sergeant Pedro Rodriguez continued
in the military as career soldiers and went on to serve in the Korean
"The Puerto Rican soldiers paid
little, if any, attention to the playing of the 'Star Spangled Banner,
Bonilla at first thought the soldiers were being disrespectful to
the United States, especially since they stood at attention whenever
La Borinqueña, the Puerto Rican anthem, was played.
The soldiers in the regiment, although proud to be U.S. citizens,
felt that they were a Puerto Rican army, not a US army, Mr.
Bonilla said. These men had a select unit pride because they
had had more time overseas and in combat areas than the American units.
Bonilla eventually earned a Ph.D. from Harvard and held faculty appointments
at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Standford University and
the City University of New York. He became a major leader in Puerto
The names of the 37 men who are known
to have perished in the conflict are engraved in "El Monumento
de la Recordacion" (Memorial Monument) monument which honors
the memory of those who fallen in the defense of the United States
and which is located in San Juan, Puerto Rico..
The military history of Puerto Rico dates back to the 16th century, when Spanish conquistadores battled against the native Taínos. The island was ruled by the Spanish Empire for four centuries, during which the Puerto Ricans defended themselves against invasions from the British, French, and Dutch. The island was invaded by the United States during the Spanish-American War, and Spain officially ceded it under the terms of the 1898 Treaty of Paris which ended the war. It is now a United States territory and Puerto Ricans, as citizens of the United States, have participated in every major conflict involving the United States from World War I onward. The following is a history of the military events in which Puerto Ricans have participated.
with the Taínos
Europeans fight over Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico was considered the "Key to the Antilles" by the Spanish, as its location was important as a way station and port for Spanish vessels. In 1540, the Spanish settlers began the construction of the fort El Morro ("the promontory") with revenue from Mexican mines. The initial phase of the construction was completed in 1589. El Morro was the island's main military fortification in San Juan and was guarded by professional soldiers. Puerto Rico's only defense was a handful of soldiers and the local militia, made up of volunteers. These units were able to defend themselves against many pirate attacks. On October 11, 1528, the French, in an attempt to capture the island, sacked and burned the settlement of San Germán. They also destroyed many of the island's first settlements; including Guánica, Sotomayor, Daguao and Loiza;before the local militia forced them to retreat. The only settlement that remained was San Juan.
Juan Ponce de León II, born in San Juan and grandson of Juan Ponce de León, organized a military expedition in the island and established a settlement on the island of Trindad in 1569. Ponce de León built the "town of the Circumcision", probably around modern Laventille. In 1570 this settlement was abandoned, possibly because of the raids by the Caribs which resulted in the death of de Leon's son. Ponce de León II, who had been the first native-born Puerto Rican to assume temporary governorship of the island, retired soon thereafter and led a religious life.
In 1585, war broke out between England and Spain. Fighting was not limited to Europe, but extended to their territories in the Americas. Sir Francis Drake was the vice-admiral in command of the Royal Navy which overcame the Spanish Armada that was attempting to invade England. On November 22, 1595, Drake and Sir John Hawkins invaded the island with 26 vessels. Spanish gunmen from El Morro shot a cannonball through the cabin of Drake's flagship. Unable to take the island, Drake set San Juan on fire; in 1596, Drake died of dysentery after a second defeat while again attacking San Juan. On June 15, 1598, the British fleet, led by George Clifford, landed in Santurce and held the island for several months. He was forced to abandon the island upon an outbreak of bacillary dysentery among his troops. In 1599, 400 additional soldiers and 46 cannons were sent to the island along with a new governor, Alonso de Mercado, to rebuild the city.
The British continued their attacks against the Spanish colonies in the caribbean and were able to take minor islands, including the island of Vieques, which is situated to the east of Puerto Rico. On August 5, 1702, the city of Arecibo was invaded by the British. Only 30 militia members, armed with spears and machetes and under the command of Captain Antonio de los Reyes Correa, defended the city from the British, who were armed with muskets and swords. At the end of the battle, there were 22 British dead on land and eight at sea. The British left in defeat, and the city of Arecibo was saved. Reyes Correa was declared a national hero and was awarded the Medalla de Oro de la Real Efigie ("Gold Medal of the Royal Image") by King Philip V, who also gave him the title of "Captain of Infantry." The Regimiento Fijo de Puerto Rico was organized in 1741. The Fijo, as it was known, came about because the Puerto Rican criollos had for some time been petitioning the Spanish Crown to allow Puerto Ricans to serve in the regular Spanish army. Up to that time criollos were not allowed to serve as regular, full-time soldiers. The Fijo not only served in the defense of Puerto Rico but in Spain's overseas possessions as well. It covered itself with glory in battles in Santo Domingo, other islands in the Caribbean and in South America, most notably in Venezuela. However, Puerto Rican complaints that the Fijo was being used to suppress the revolution there caused the Crown to bring the Fijo home and in 1815, mustered it out of service.
In 1765, the Spanish Crown sent Field Marshall Alejandro O'Reilly to Puerto Rico to form an organized militia. O'Reilly, known as the "Father of the Puerto Rican Militia," took it upon himself to instill a sense of military discipline in the local troops. The training which he oversaw was to bring fame and glory to the militia in future military engagements. He nicknamed the civilian militia the "Disciplined Militia." O'Reilly was appointed governor of colonial Louisiana in 1769 where he became known as "Bloody O'Reilly".
During the American Revolutionary War, Spain lent the rebelling colonists the use of its ports in Puerto Rico, through which they received financial aid and arms for their cause. Puerto Rican volunteers fought the British, alongside the Continental Army, in the Battle of Massachusetts in 1775, under the command of Captain General Torre. An incident occurred in the coast of Mayagüez, in 1777, between two Continental Navy ships, the ''Eudawook'' and the ''Henry'', and a Royal Navy warship, the HMS ''Glasgow''. Both American ships were chased by the larger and more powerful ''Glasgow''. The American ships were close to the coast of Mayagüez and members of the Puerto Rican militia of that town, realizing that something was wrong, signaled for the ships to dock at the towns Bay. After the ships docked, the crews of both ships got off and some Mayagüezanos boarded and raised the Spanish flag on both ships. The commander of the ''Glasgow'' became aware of the situation and asked the islands governor, Jose Dufresne to turn over the ships. Governor Dufresne refused and ordered the English warship out of the Puerto Rican dock. The governor of Louisiana, Bernardo de Gálvez (1746-1786), was named general of the Spanish colonial army in North America. In 1779, Galvez and his troops, composed of Puerto Ricans and other Hispanic groups, distracted the British from the revolution by capturing the cities of Baton Rouge, Mobile, Pensacola and St. Louis. Galvez and his troops also provided the Continental Army with guns, cloth, gunpowder and medicine shipped from Cuba up the Mississippi River.
On February 17, 1797, the appointed governor of Puerto Rico, Ramón de Castro, who was also a brigadier general in the Spanish Army, received the news that England had invaded the Caribbean island of Trinidad. Governor Ramón de Castro believed that Puerto Rico would be the next objective of the British and that they would once again attempt to invade the island. He decided to put the militia on alert and to prepare the island's forts against any military action. On April 17, 1797, British ships under the command of Sir Ralph Abercromby, approached the coastal town of Loíza, to the east of San Juan. On April 18, British soldiers and German mercenaries ("Hessians") landed on Loíza's beach. Under the command of Brigadier Ramón de Castro, British ships were attacked with artillery and mortar fire from both El Morro and the San Gerónimo fortresses. The British twice tried to take the Martín Peña Bridge, which would lead to San Juan, but after fiercely fighting the Spanish forces and local militia they were defeated in both of their attempts. The invasion had failed because a total of 16,000 Puerto Rican volunteers and Spanish troops fought back and defended the island. The British also attacked Aguadilla and Punta Salinas, but they were defeated, and the British troops that had landed on the island were taken prisoner. The British retreated on April 30, 1797 to their ships and on May 2, 1797 set sails towards north. Because of the defeat given the british forces governor Ramon de Castro petitoned Spanish King Charles IV some recognitions for the victors; he was promoted to Field Marshall and others where promoted and given some pay raises. On December 1797 the British also attacked Aguadilla but they were defeated. The British persited to invade Puerto Rico with unsuccessful skirmishes on the coastal towns of Ponce, Cabo Rojo, Mayaguez until 1802 when the war with England finally came to an end.
Captain Miguel Enríquez
Spain and Britain were in a constant power struggle in the New World. Puerto Rican privateering of British ships was encouraged by the Spanish Crown. Captain Miguel Enríquez and Roberto Cofresi were two of the most famous pirates. Enríquez was a shoemaker by occupation. In the later years of the 18th century, Enríquez decided to try his luck as a pirate. He showed great valor in intercepting English merchant ships and other ships dedicated to contraband that were infesting the seas of Puerto Rico and the Atlantic Ocean in general. In 1811, Miguel Enríquez participated in the expeditionary force, under the command of Juan Rosello, which fought and defeated the British in the island of Vieques. Miguel Enríquez was received as a national hero when he returned the island of Vieques back to the Spanish Empire and to the governorship of Puerto Rico. In recognition of his services, the Spanish Crown awarded Miguel Enríquez with the Medalla de Oro de la Real Efigie (The Gold Medal of the Royal Image), named him "Captain of the Seas and Land" and gave him a letter of "marque and reprisal" thus granting him the privileges of privateer.
In the case of Captain Roberto Cofresi, the Spanish government received many complaints from the nations whose ships he attacked. The Spanish government, which normally encouraged piracy against other nations, was pressured and felt obliged to pursue and capture the famous pirate. Cofresi and his men attacked eight ships, amongst them an American ship. In 1824, Captain John Slout of the U.S. Naval Forces and his schooner "Grampus" engaged Cofresi in a fierce battle. The pirate Cofresi was captured along with eleven of his crew members and was turned over to the Spanish Government. He was sent to jail in El Castillo del Morro in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Cofresi was judged by a Spanish Council of War, found guilty and executed by firing squad, on March 29 1825.
The British were not the only enemies
that Spain faced in the Caribbean during this period. France had threatened
to invade the Spanish Colony of Santo Domingo. In 1808 the Spanish
Crown sent their Navy under the command of Puerto Rican Admiral Ramon
Power y Giralt to prevent the invasion of Santo Domingo by the French
by enforcing a blockade. He was successful and was proclaimed a hero
by the Spanish Government.
The Netherlands was a world military
and commercial power by 1625, competing in the Caribbean with the
British. The Dutch wanted to establish a military stronghold in the
area, and dispatched Captain Balduino Enrico (Boudewijn Hendricksz)
with the task of capturing Puerto Rico. On September 24, 1625, Enrico
arrived at the coast of San Juan with 17 ships and 2,000 men. The
governor of Puerto Rico, Juan de Haros, was an experienced military
man, and, expecting an attack in the section known as Boqueron, had
that area fortified. However, the Dutch took another route and landed
in La Puntilla. De Haro realized that an invasion was inevitable and
ordered 300 men stationed at El Morro Castle and the city of San Juan
evacuated. He also had former governor Juan de Vargas organize an
armed resistance in the interior of the island. On September 25 Enrico
attacked San Juan, besieging El Morro Castle and La Fortaleza (the
Governor's Mansion). He invaded the capital city and set up his headquarters
in La Fortaleza. The Dutch were counterattacked by the civilian militia
on land and by the cannons of the Spanish troops in El Morro Castle.
The land battle left 60 Dutch soldiers dead and Enrico wounded. The
Dutch ships at sea were boarded by Puerto Ricans who defeated those
aboard. After a long battle, the Spanish soldiers and volunteers of
the city's militia were able to defend the city from the attack and
save the island from an invasion. On October 21, Enrico set La Fortaleza
and the city ablaze upon his retreat. He then tried to invade the
island by attacking the town of Aguada. He was again defeated by the
local militia and abandoned the idea of invading Puerto Rico.
The United States declared war on Spain in 1898, following the sinking of the battleship "USS Maine (ACR-1" in Havana harbor, Cuba, beginning the Spanish-American War. One of the United States's principal objectives was to take control of Spanish possessions Puerto Rico and Cuba in the Atlantic, and the Philippines and Guam in the Pacific.
On May 10, 1898, Spanish forces, under the command of Capt. Angel Rivero Mendez, in the fortress of San Cristobal in San Juan exchanged fire with the USS Yale (1889), and on May 12 a fleet of 12 American ships bombarded San Juan. On June 25, the USS Yosemite arrived in San Juan and blockaded the port. On July 25, General Nelson A. Miles entered the southern town of Guánica with 3,300 troops and with the exception of some minor skirmishes, went practically unopposed. One of the most notable skirmishes between Spanish forces and Puerto Rican volunteers with the Americans occurred on July 26. The Spanish forces engaged the 6th Massachusetts in a firefight in what became known as the Battle of Yauco. Two Spanish soldiers died. The Americans were well received by the Puerto Rican population in general, making the invasion much easier, and the Spanish surrendered without other major incidents. The total casualties of the Puerto Rican campaign were 450 Spanish and Puerto Rican dead or wounded, plus four dead and 39 wounded Americans.
On August 8, 1898, the Spanish-American War ended, and upon the signing of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States. The Spanish troops had already left by October 18, and the United States named General John R. Brooke as military governor of the island. On July 1, 1899, "The Porto Rico Regiment of Infantry, United States Army" was created, and approved by the United States Congress on May 27, 1908. The regiment was a segregated, all-volunteer unit made up of 1,969 Puerto Ricans
In 1897, before the onset of fighting in Puerto Rico, Juan Alonso Zayas, born in San Juan, was a Second Lieutenant in the Spanish Army when he received orders to head for the Philippines to command of the 2nd Expeditionary Battalion stationed in Baler. He arrived in Manila, the capital, in May 1897. There he took a vessel and headed for Baler, on the island of Luzon. The distance between Manila and Baler is 62 miles (100 km); if traveled through the jungles and badly-built roads, the actual distance was 144 miles (230 km). At that time a system of communication between Manila and Baler was almost non-existent. The only way Baler received news from Manila was by way of vessels. The Spanish colonial government was under constant attack from local Filipino groups who wanted independence. Zayas's mission was to fortify Baler against any possible attack. Among his plans for the defense of Baler was to convert the local church of San Luis de Tolosa into a fort.
The independence advocates, under the leadership of Colonel Calixto Vilacorte, were called "insurgents" (''tagalos'') by the Spanish crown. On June 28, 1898, they demanded the surrender of the Spanish army. The Spanish governor of the region, Enrique de las Morena y Fossi, refused. Immediately, the Filipinos attacked Baler in a battle that was to last for seven months. Despite being outnumbered and suffering hunger and disease, the battalion did not capitulate. In the meantime, Zayas and the rest of the battalion were totally unaware of the Spanish-American War that was going on. On August 1898, the hostilities between the United States and Spain came to an end. The Philippines became a U.S. possession under the accordance of the Treaty of Paris. The battalion at Baler found out about the Spanish-American War and its aftermath in May 1899, and surrendered on June 2, 1899. They were unaware that they had been fighting for a possession that was no longer theirs. The 32 survivors of Zayas Battalion were sent to Manila, where they boarded a ship for Spain. In Spain, they were given a hero's welcome and became known as ''los Ultimos de Baler''—"the Last of Baler".
World War I
The need for a Puerto Rican National Guard unit became apparent to Major General Luis R. Esteves, who had served as instructor of Puerto Rican Officers for the Porto Rico Regiment of Infantry at Camp Las Casas in Puerto Rico. His request was met with the approval of the government and Puerto Rican Legislature. In 1919, the first regiment of the Puerto Rican National Guard was formed, and General Luis R. Esteves became the first official Commandant of the Puerto Rican National Guard.
Puerto Rico suffered greatly during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and many Puerto Ricans moved to the East Coast of the United States looking for jobs and a better way of life. On the island, the unemployment rate continued to rise. Many of the Puerto Ricans who were unable to find a job looked to the Armed Forces of the United States as a source of employment. Not only were they paid better than at the few other available jobs, but they were also guaranteed three meals a day, clothing, and shelter.
World War II
In 1942, Tech4 Carmen Contreras-Bozak was a member of the 149th WAAC Post Headquarters Company which was the first WAAC Company to go overseas, setting sail from New York Harbor for Europe on January 1943. The unit arrived in Northern Africa on January 27, 1943 and rendered overseas duties in Algiers within General Dwight D. Eisenhower s theatre headquarters. Contreras-Bozak was the first Hispanic to serve in the U.S. Women's Army Corps as an interpreter and in numerous administrative positions
When the United States declared war against the Empire of Japan and Nazi Germany, recruiters were sent to the island. In 1944, the Army Nurse Corps decided to actively recruit Puerto Rican nurses so that Army hospitals would not have to deal with the language barriers. Among them was Lieutenant Carmen Durnier, who became one of the first Puerto Rican female military officers. In 1942, the 65th Infantry underwent an extensive training program, and in 1943 it was sent to Panama Canal Zone to protect the Pacific and the Atlantic sides of the isthmus.
In 1944, the regiment was sent to North
Africa, arriving at Casablanca, where they underwent further training.
By April 29, 1944, the Regiment
had landed in Italy and moved on to Corsica. On September 22, 1944,
the 65th Infantry landed in France and was committed to action on
the Maritime Alps at Peira Cava. There was a total of 47 battle casualties.
The first Puerto Rican to be killed in action from the 65th Infantry
was Sergeant Angel Martinez, from the town of Sabana Grande. On April
20, the 65th overran a sub-camp of the Flossenburg Concentration Camp.
On March 18, 1945, the regiment was sent to the District of Mannheim
and assigned to military occupation duties. In all, the 65th Infantry
participated in the battles of Naples-Fogis, Rome-Arno, central Europe
and of the Rhineland. On October 27, 1945, the regiment sailed from
France, arriving at Puerto Rico on November 9, 1945. The regiment
suffered a total of 23 soldiers killed in action. Other Puerto Ricans
who played an important role during the war were Admiral Horacio Rivero,
who would become the highest ranking Hispanic in the history of the
U.S. Navy, he provided artillery cover for the Marines landing on
Guadalcanal, Marshall Islands, and Okinawa; and Lieutenant General
Pedro del Valle (photo on the right), the first Hispanic Marine
Corps general, who played a key role in the Guadalcanal Campaign and
the Battle of Guam, became the Commanding General of the First Marine
Division. Del Valle played an instrumental role in the defeat of the
Japanese forces in Okinawa and was in charge of the reorganization
Revolt against the United States
In the mid-1940's, Puerto Rico had various pro-independence groups. One such group was the Puerto Rican Independence Party which beleived in gaining the islands independence through the electroral process. Another group was the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party which believed in the concept of armed revolution. On October 30, 1950 the nationalists, under the leadership of Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos staged uprisings in the towns of Ponce, Mayaguez, Naranjito, Arecibo, Utuado, San Juan and Jayuya.
The most notable of these occurred in Jayuya in what became known as El Grito de Jayuya. Nationalist leader Blanca Canales led the armed nationalists into the town and attacked the police station. A small battle with the police occurred and one officer was killed and three others wounded before the rest dropped their weapons and surrendered. The nationalists cut the telephone lines and burned the post office. Canales led the group into the town square where the 'light blue version' of the 'Puerto Rican Flag was raised (it was against the law to carry a Puerto Rican Flag from 1898 to 1952). Canales gave a speech in the town square and declared Puerto Rico a free Republic. The town was held by the nationalists for three days. (Picture/Blanca Canales)
The United States declared martial law in Puerto Rico and sent the Puerto Rico National Guard to attack Jayuya. The town was attacked by air by U.S. bomber planes and on land by artillery. Even though 70% of the town was destroyed, news of this military action was prevented from spreading outside of Puerto Rico. It was called an incident between Puerto Ricans. The top leaders of the nationalist party were arrested, including Albizu Campos and Blanca Canales, and sent to jail to serve long prison terms. Griselio Torresola was in the United States where, together with fellow nationalist Oscar Collazo, he decided to assassinate President Harry S. Truman. On November 1, 1950, they attacked the Blair House where Torresola and a policeman lost their lives. Oscar Collazo was arrested and sentenced to death. His sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment by President Truman, and he eventually received a presidential pardon.
On August 26, 1950, the 65th Infantry departed from Puerto Rico and arrived in Pusan, Korea on September 23, 1950. It was during the long sea voyage that the men nicknamed the 65th Infantry "Borinqueneers". The name is a combination of the words "Borinquen" (which was what the Tainos called the island before the arrival if the Spaniards) and "Buccaneers". The men of the 65th were the first infantrymen to meet the enemy on the battle fields of Korea. Among 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. On December 1950, the U.S. Marines found themselves at the Chosin Reservoir area. In June 1951, The 65th was part of a task force which enabled the Marines to withdraw from the Hauack-on Reservoir. When the Marines were encircled by the Chinese Communist troops close to the Manchurian border, the 65th rushed to their defense. As a consequence, the Marines were able to return safely to their ships.
Among the battles and operations in which the 65th participated was the Operation "Killer" of January 1951, becoming the first Regiment to cross the Han River. On April 1951, the Regiment participated in the Uijonber 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 Cherwon and they were also instrumental in breaking the "Iron Triangle" of Hill 717 on July 1951. On November 1951, the Regiment fought off an attack by two Regimental size enemy units, with success. Colonel Juan Cesar Cordero Davila was named commander of 65th Infantry on February 8, 1952, thus becoming one of the highest ranking ethnic officers in the Army. On July 3, 1952, the Regiment defended the MLR for 47 days and saw action at Cognac, King and Queen with successful attacks on Chinese positions. On October the Regiment also saw action in the Cherwon Sector and on Iron Horse, Hill 391, whose lower part was called "Jackson Heights". On September of 1952, the 65th Infantry was holding on to a hill known as "Outpost Kelly". Chinese Communist forces which had joined the North Koreans, overran the hill in what became known as the Battle for Outpost Kelly. Twice the 65th Regiemnt was overwhelmed by Chinese artillery and driven off.
Col. Cordero Davila was relieved of his command by Col. Chester B. DeGavre, a West Point graduate and a "continental" officer from the mainland United States and the officer staff of the 65th was replaced with non-Hispanic officers.
DeGavre ordered that unit stop calling itself the Borinqueneers, cut their special rations of rice and beans, ordered the men to shave off their mustaches and had ome of them wear signs that read "I am a coward".
It is believed that humiliation, combat exhuastion and the language barrier where factors that influenced some of the men of Company L in their refusal to continue to fight.
On December 1954, One hundred and sixty-two Puerto Ricans of the 65th Infantry were arrested, Ninety-five soldiers were court martialed and Ninety-one were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to 18 years of hard labor. It was the largest mass court-martial of the Korean War. The Secretary of the Army Robert Stevens moved quickly to remit the sentences and granted clemency and pardons to all those involved.
An Army report released in 2001, blamed the breakdown of the 65th on the following factors: a shortage of officers and noncommissioned officers, a otation policy that removed combat-experienced leaders and soldiers, tactics that led to high casualties, an ammunition shortage, communication problems between largely white, English- speaking officers and Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican enlisted men, and declining morale. The report also found bias in the prosecution of the Puerto Ricans, citing instances of continental soldiers who were not charged after refusing to fight in similar circumstances, before and after Jackson Heights.
Though the men who were court martialed were pardoned, there currently is a campaign for a formal exoneration.
On June 1953, the 2nd Battalion conducted a series of successful raids on Hill 412 and on November the Regiment successfully counterattacked enemy units in the Numsong Valley and held their positions until the truce signing between all parts involved.
The 65th Infantry was awarded battle participation credits for the following nine campaigns: 1. UN Defense-1950, 2. UN Offense-1950, 3. CCF Intervention-1950, 4. First UN Counterattack Offensive-1951, 5. UN and CCF Spring Offensive-1951, 6. UN Summer-Fall Offensive-1951, 7. 2nd Korean Winter 1951-52, 8. Korean Summer-Fall-1952 and 9. 3rd Korean Winter-1952-53. Among the awards were 10 |Distinguished Service Cross, 256 Silver Star Medals and 595 Bronze Star Medals were awarded to the men of the 65th Infantry. 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. More then half of these were from the 65th Infantry (This is without including non-Puerto Ricans). Among the Puerto Ricans from the regiment who distinguished themselves are:
*Brigadier General Antonio Rodriguez Balinas, On December 23 1951, 1st Lieutenant Antonio Rodriguez Balinas fearlessly walked through a lethal hail of enemy fire directly toward the hostile bunker of the enemy, hurled his hand grenades and single-handedly completely destroyed the position and its occupants near Sorgyon-Myon. He was awarded two Silver Star medals.
*Colonel Carlos Betances Ramirez, On October 28, 1952, Col. Betances, who was the first and only Puerto Rican officer to have commanded an infantry battalion in the Korean War, led his men in the victorious Battle of Jackson Heights.
*Master Sergeant Pedro Rodriguez, earned two Silver Star Medals within a seven day period for his actions defending Hills 476 and 398.
*Staff Sergeant Modesto Cartagena, the most decorated Hispanic in history, was a Buck Sergeant in 1951 assigned to Company C, [[65th Infantry Regiment]], 3rd Infantry Division, Cartagena. "With no regard for his own safety," as the official record states, he left his position and charged directly into devastating enemy fire, single-handedly destroying two enemy emplacements on Hill 206, near Yonch'on, North Korea. After taking out the emplacements, he was knocked to the ground twice by exploding enemy grenades. Nevertheless, he got up and attacked three more times, each time destroying an enemy emplacement until he was wounded. His family is leading a petition requesting that he be awarded the Medal of Honor.
Other Puerto Ricans who distinguished themselves during the Korean War were: Private First Class Fernando Luis Garcia (photo on the left), who belonged to Company I, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Division and who became the first Puerto Rican recipient of the Medal of Honor when he covered a grenade with his body, saving the lives of his fellow Marines. Major General Salvador E. Felices flew in 19 combat bombing missions over North Korea.
In 1956, the 65th Infantry Regiment was transferred to the Puerto Rican National Guard. 61,000 Puerto Ricans served in the Korean War, including 18,000 Puerto Ricans who enlisted in the continental United States.
On February 12, 1951, General Douglas
MacArthur, was quoted in Tokyo saying the following: The Puerto
Ricans forming the ranks of the gallant 65th Infantry on the battlefields
of Korea &are writing a brilliant record of achievement in battle
and I am proud indeed to have them in this command. I wish that we
might have many more like them.
During the Vietnam War, an estimated 48,000 Puerto Ricans served in the four branches of the armed forces. Four Puerto Ricans were awarded the Medal of Honor:
*On November 8, 1966, Captain Euripides Rubio was mortally wounded at Tay Ninh Province, but was able to place a smoke grenade behind enemy lines, saving the lives of his comrades and turning the tide of the battle.
*On November 20, 1967, Private First Class Carlos Lozada (photo on the right) was mortally wounded at Dak To, while providing machine gun cover for his battalion.
*On June 28, 1968, Specialist Hector Santiago-Colon distinguished himself at Quang Tri Province at the cost of his own life while serving as a gunner in a mortar platoon.
*On July 8, 2002, Captain Humbert Roque Versace, became the first Army Prisoner of war in Southeast Asia to posthumously be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions while in captivity from 1963 to 1965.
Among those who had distinguished military careers and who participated in the war were:
Major General Salvador E. Felices (USAF ), who in 1968 flew 39 combat bombing missions over North Vietnam in a B-52 Stratofortress, as commander of the 306th Bombardment Wing.
Captain Diego E. Hernandez (USN), who rose to the rank of Vice Admiral and became the first Hispanic to be named Vice Commander, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). In Vietnam he flew in two combat missions.
Colonel Hector Andres Negroni (USAF), a historian and author who was the first Puerto Rican graduate of the United States Air Force Academy. He had a total of 750 combat hours.
Two Puerto Ricans who served in Vietnam currently hold positions in the Administration of President George W. Bush. They are Dr. Richard Carmona a former Green Beret who was awarded two Purple Heart Medals and was appointed Surgeon General in March 2002, and Major General William A. Navas Jr. who was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and was named Assistant Secretary of the Navy in June 6, 2001.
El Dorado Canyon
Desert Shield and Desert Storm
On March 1, 2005 Specialist Lizbeth
Robles became the first female Puerto Rican soldier born
in the island to die in Irak when her Humvee was involved in an
accident. Currently, there are 1,800 Puerto Rican soldiers stationed
in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Bosnia and Herzegovina.