A group of Puerto Rican veterans gained a major victory in their quest for a Congressional Gold Medal as 15 additional members of the House of Representatives agreed to co-sponsor a bill in favor of their push.
Three Democrats and 12 Republicans added their support to the Borinqueneers Congressional Gold Medal Act, which was introduced earlier this spring by Representatives Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR) and Bill Posey (R-FL). Its companion bill in the Senate was introduced in June by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and has 18 of the necessary 67 co-sponsors.
The bills would award the Congressional Gold medal to members of the 65th Infantry Regiment "Borinqueneers," who comprised the largest, longest-standing, and only active-duty segregated Latino military unit in U.S. history. Similar actions have already been taken for the famed Tuskegee Airmen and other segregated U.S. military units
“We want to highlight the courageous actions they took,” Frank Medina, the president of the Boriqueeneers Congressional Gold Medal Alliance, told Fox News Latino earlier this year. “It’s comparable to any other U.S. soldier.”
While many veterans of the 65th Infantry are highly decorated –such as Silver Stars, Purple Hearts and distinguished service crosses – the Congressional Gold Medal would be awarded to all veterans of the regiment, Medina said.
“The Congressional Gold Medal will be the highest award granted by Congress to a segregated Hispanic unit,” he added.
The alliance not only wants to spur Congress to award the medal to the Puerto Rican veterans, but also to raise awareness for the adversity the soldiers faced on the battle field and upon return to civilian life.
“They served their country and then they got back to Puerto Rico to find that they don’t have the same status as other soldiers,” said Javier Morales, the president of the 65th Infantry Veterans Association.
A 65th Infantry veteran, whose brother was wounded in Vietnam by a claymore mine, Morales now spends his time traveling around his home island, visiting with other veterans and hearing their concerns.
Besides the lack of any formal recognition from Congress, Morales said, many veterans have not been given the proper care and benefits that other soldiers received when retiring from active duty.
“Some don’t have benefits. They were wounded, they’re suffering from PTSD and they need help,” he said. “The treatment we received when we got back was horrible.”