Washington, D.C. – Ahead of this afternoon’s unveiling of the Congressional Gold Medal, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) honored the 65th Infantry Regiment “Borinqueneers” in a floor speech earlier today.
A transcript of Rubio’s remarks is below. A video of Rubio's remarks is available here.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
Senate Floor Speech
April 13, 2016
Senator Marco Rubio: “I do want to rise today to pay tribute to a distinguished group of American heroes – and it’s a group that for far too long was denied the honors and benefits they were owed for their service to our nation.
“The 65th Infantry Regiment, they’re known as the Borinqueneers, it is a predominantly Puerto Rican regiment that is the only Hispanic segregated unit to fight in every global war of the 20th century.
“Historically, the Borinqueneers were denied equal benefits and equal honors for their service, and this is despite the fact that their regiment shared equal risk and equal duty in combat during World War I, World War II, and the Korean War.
“They have since been decorated for their extraordinary service on the battlefield. In the Korean War alone, the Regiment earned more than 2,700 Purple Hearts, 600 Bronze Stars, 250 Silver Stars, nine Distinguished Service Crosses, and one Medal of Honor.
“There is another medal, however, that has yet to be presented, but that will change later this afternoon when the Borinqueneers and their families celebrate the unveiling of the long-overdue Congressional Gold Medal. This is the highest civilian honor in the United States.
“The medal will be unveiled today at a ceremony in the Capitol. It will then be given to the Smithsonian Institute and placed on public display. It is my hope that the more than 1,000 Borinqueneer veterans living throughout the United States, as well as the family members of those fallen, and departed, and missing in action, will know at last that their service has received the ultimate tribute from a grateful nation.
“Over the years, even in the shadow of unequal treatment, the Borinqueneers never faltered and they never failed to prove just how valuable they are to the cause of freedom.
“My favorite example is the story of Operation PORTREX – a military exercise that occurred on the eve of the Korean War. It was intended to test how the Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force would do as liberators of an enemy controlled island.
“The Borinqueneers were tasked with playing the role of “the enemy aggressors” and attempting to prevent the more than 32,000 American troops from liberating the island in this exercise, and it was a task they weren’t expected to accomplish.
“Yet much to the surprise of the Army commanders, the 65th Infantry, badly outnumbered, was able to halt the offensive forces on the beaches.
“And so, it’s no surprise that after seeing the tremendous skill of the Borinqueneers, our Army commanders quickly deployed them into the heart of the Korean War, trusting them with numerous important offensive operations.
“One of those operations occurred on the 31st of January 31 of the year 1951 and it’s credited as having been the last battalion-sized bayonet charge by a US Army unit.
“Of that charge, the Commanding General Douglas MacArthur later, he wrote:
‘The Puerto Ricans forming the ranks of the gallant 65th Infantry Regiment on the battlefields of Korea by valor, determination and a resolute will to victory give daily testament to their invincible loyalty to the United States and the fervor of their devotion to those immutable standards of human relations to which the Americans and the Puerto Ricans are in common dedicated. They 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.’
“Throughout the storied history of the 65th, there are countless examples of valor that have distinguished this Regiment. And today, Puerto Ricans serve in our military at some of the highest rates of any demographic group in the nation, which is no doubt a lasting legacy of the Borinqueneers.
“It’s been one of my great honors as a Senator to be involved in the effort to secure the Congressional Gold Medal by cosponsoring the legislation that passed the Senate in 2014. I was also honored to stand in the White House as President Obama signed the bill into law.
“Today I would like to thank the two congressionally designated liaisons who have worked tirelessly to make this day a reality: Sam Rodriguez and Javier Morales, both of whom are Army veterans themselves. They made it their mission to ensure that, through the design of the medal and its unveiling ceremony, these men who have honored our nation receive the honor they deserve in return. And I thank both of them for their work.
“I would also like to say a special thank you to the students of St. Luke’s Lutheran School in Oviedo, Florida, and their teacher Mrs. Carla Cotto Ford, who is the granddaughter of two Borinqueneers herself. Mrs. Ford and her students raised thousands of dollars in their community toward an ongoing national effort to ensure that every single living Borinqueneer would receive a replica of the Congressional Gold Medal.
“The passionate efforts of Mr. Rodriguez, Mr. Morales, Mrs. Ford and her students, and so many others who have labored to make this day a reality is part of what makes this Congressional Gold Medal so special. It reminds us that the legacy of past generations of Borinqueneers who have fought and died for America is indeed a living legacy.
“Today, that legacy, alive and well, reminds us that America is truly an exceptional country.
“Ours is a nation made up of people from all different backgrounds and all different cultures, who came together as one nation because we share a common idea: that everyone deserves the freedom to exercise their God-given rights.
“Each member of the 65th Infantry Regiment fought for that freedom – not just for themselves, but for every man, woman, and child in these United States.
“So in closing, to the Borinqueneers, I’d like to say congratulations on the unveiling of your well-deserved Congressional Gold Medal.
“And more importantly, on behalf of my staff, my family, and the people of Florida, I’d like to say thank you – thank you for your service, thank you for your courage, and thank you for fighting to make this nation the best it can be.”