Connecticut Borinqueneers head to D.C.
for Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony
More than 50 years after serving in the Korean War, four Puerto Rican Army veterans from Connecticut will join members of their regiment at a Wednesday ceremony at the U.S. Capitol marking their receipt of the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress.
The 65th Infantry Regiment, known as the Borinqueneers, will be honored at a Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony. The regiment’s nickname comes from Borinquen, Puerto Rico’s native name. Mostly Puerto Ricans served in the 65th, which is the longest-standing and only active-duty segregated Latino military unit in the history of the United States. The regiment was active from 1899 to 1956, with soldiers serving in World Wars I and II, and Korea.
Among the honorees will be retired Army staff sergeants Jose G. “Joe” Pickard, of Wethersfield, and Celestino Cordova, of New Haven. Two other Borinqueneers from Connecticut will also attend, but they were not present at a send-off celebration in Hartford Monday, hosted by Hispanic-American Veterans of Connecticut Inc. The organization worked for several years to encourage passage of legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the regiment.
Around 61,000 Puerto Ricans served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, most of them with the 65th. They suffered “a disproportionately high casualty rate,” according to the gold medal legislation, which cites more than 750 Puerto Rican soldiers killed and more than 2,300 wounded during the war. During Korea, the 65th conducted the last recorded battalion-sized bayonet assault in the Army’s history, according to the legislation.
“We went to Korea thinking of the big job we had to do there. It was painful. It was tough. We went down there with the name of Puerto Rico in our hearts,” Pickard said.
Most of the men have died with 13 having passed away in the last year, according to the Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony Committee. Those who are still living are in their 80s and 90s. Both Cordova and Pickard are 87.
Pickard served as an infantry soldier in Korea, and Cordova was an Army Ranger. Cordova recalled how dangerous his job was, and how when it got dark at night he and others went out to look for the enemy.
The Congressional Gold Medal adds to a long list of awards soldiers of the regiment earned in Korea, including 10 Distinguished Service Crosses, about 250 Silver Stars, more than 6,000 Bronze Stars, and more than 2,700 Purple Hearts.
Cordova and Pickard were part of a small group that traveled to Washington last June when President Barack Obama signed the legislation.
The ceremony, which starts at 3 p.m., will be streamed live at speaker.gov/live.