The 65th Infantry Regiment, otherwise known as “Borinqueneers,” was created in 1899 by the U.S. Congress as a segregated unit composed primarily of Puerto Ricans. Thousands of these brave men served in World War I, World War II and the Korean War.
According to Gilberto Villahermosa’s book, “Honor and Fidelity: The 65th Infantry in Korea, 1950-1953,” 61,000 Puerto Ricans served in the Korean War alone, thousands of them with the 65th. However, the 65th has been the only segregated military infantry unit to have not yet been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
But just last month, after more than a year in the making, the House of Representatives and the Senate passed bills that will grant the 65th Infantry Regiment its long-awaited recognition. President Barack Obama will sign the legislation on June 10, 2014, and the living members of the infantry, and their families, will head to Washington to receive the Medal.
“I am feeling wonderful!,” says Master Sergeant Andres Vergara about the pending honor.
Vergara, now 92, signed up with the Army at 19 and served in the 65th during World War II. According to “The Borinqueneers” documentary producer, Noemi Figueroa, he is only one of at least 300 Borinqueneers, which could possibly be in the thousands, who are still documented as living. Residing in Clearwater, Florida, Vergara drives 11 hours every weekend to an Army base in Georgia to volunteer – even though he retired from the Army 34 years ago.
“I do military intelligence,” says Vergara proudly. “I sit at the computer Friday, Saturday and Sunday with no sleep.”
He says he signed up as a volunteer three years ago, and the Army recruited him.
“This is my last month,” says Vergara. “I have the rest of the week off, and this weekend I am lucky I can go to New York to take part in the National Puerto Rican Day Parade.”
This year’s parade, on June 8, will feature a special float dedicated to the Borinqueneers of the 65th Infantry Regiment.
During service in Korea, Vergara saved the lives of approximately 100 children when a Korean orphanage caught fire. Recently, the Republic of South Korea honored him with a Medal of Honor, and they also named a school in his honor.
Although the details of that experience are fuzzy in his memory, what he does remember fondly is playing the tuba in the 81st Army Band while serving in Germany, Africa, and Japan.
What is he going do now that he is retiring from the Army for the second time?
“I might continue parachute jumping,” says Vergara happily. “I’m a paratrooper. I go every two weeks. I’ve been to Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Panama, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Israel. Next year, we’re going to Vietnam!”