On June 10, 2014, President Barack Obama signed bills H.R. 1726 and S. 1174 awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to 65th U.S. Army Infantry Regiment—also known as el sesenta y cinco de infantería. Since the American Revolution, Congress has commissioned Gold Medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. Since George Washington received it in 1776, only 158 individuals and entities have been awarded the medal to date. Few combat units have earned this accolade. The 65th is the first unit to receive it for service during the Korean War and they join Roberto Clemente as the only Puerto Rican or Latino recipients.
For those who served in the 65th, the Congressional Gold Medal is part of a broader phenomenon. In recent years, the Borinqueneers, as the men of the 65th are known, have been honored across the United States with avenues, boulevards, parks and monuments taking the regiment’s name, and parades and days dedicated to its men. A decade ago no one would have predicted such accolades. Not only was el sesenta y cinco virtually forgotten or unknown to Puerto Ricans, but the sacrifice and contribution of the hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans who have served in the United States Armed Forces since 1899 had also been largely ignored by the general public.
The 65th was a distinctively Puerto Rican outfit. The enlisted men, non-commissioned officers, and some junior officers in the 65th were Puerto Ricans, while most senior officers were continental Americans. The origins of this segregated unit are found in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War of 1898 with the creation of what came to be known as the first “American Colonial Army.” Intended for service on the island, regarded as unfit for combat and overseas deployment, and colloquially called a “Rum & Coke” outfit, the 65th was kept far from combat until the Korean War, when it was sent to fight as first line troops for the first time.