Renamed Road Honors 65th Infantry
Philadelphia – As he pulled the covering to unveil the newly named Whitaker Avenue – about to become known as “Borinqueneers Avenue,” Friday, Pennsylvania Rep. Angel Cruz and the rest of an audience of some two hundred Latino community leaders, public officials police officers and firefighters, were startled as a portion of the plastic cover still clung to the sign, leaving hidden the new name.
After a few hushed and anxious moments passed, the expectant audience burst into applause as a gust of wind hoisted the remaining cover straight-up, as if into clouds.
For a historic 65th Infantry Regiment that had participated in World Wars I and II, and had adopted the nickname “Borinqueneers” during their transit to fight in the Korean War, the temporary delay seemed emblematic of a group of Puerto Rican soldiers who similarly remained hidden in obscurity for generations.
“A lot of people are saying that this is over, it’s not over,” declared (USMC) George Perez, a Vietnam Veteran and aide to US Rep. Bob Brady spoke of a potential monument, adding, “There are still 93 veterans missing in action and buried in Korea, but nothing is being done to bring them home.”
Mr. Perez then recalled the national effort to obtain the Congressional Gold Medal that was spearheaded by Latin-American Legion Post 840’s Commander and ( Police Inspector) Joe Melendez (Army Veteran, Vietnam); USMC Juvencio Gonzalez, an aide to Lt. Governor-elect Mike Stack and himself: “We started this and we never thought it would get this big,” said Mr. Perez of the pursuit of gold medal legislation (H.R. 1726) that passed on May 22nd of this year.
“It was our responsibility to make sure the “Borinqueneers” were recognized and respected,” said Pa. Rep. Cruz, who followed by introducing two of the remaining members of the Puerto Rican 65th Infantry, Hector Maisonave and Emerito Bermudez. “They gave us the freedom we enjoy today,” added Rep. Cruz.
Noting that this is the “Year of the Veteran,” Mr. Gonzalez lauded the more than three hundred members of Congress and 67 Senators, and specifically U.S. Rep. Brady, Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey, Lt. Governor-elect Mike Stack, State Rep. Angel Cruz, City Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez, who have made this such a “wonderful year” for Borinqueneers.
“We also want to see documentaries, films, monuments and curriculums where they teach the history of the 65th Infantry,” said Mr. Gonzalez.
“So when you hear about the Tuskegee Airmen, when you hear about the Navajo Code Talkers, you’re going to hear one more, the 65th Infantry Regiment,” asserted Mr. Gonzalez to applause.
The newly elected Pennsylvania State Rep. Leslie Acosta was equally enthused by the street renaming: “This is long overdue and makes me proud to see Whitaker Avenue changed to Borinqueneers. These Puerto Rican soldiers shed their blood to give us the freedoms we enjoy today.”
Of the notion of creating monuments and adapting curriculums to teach the history of the 65th, Rep. Acosta said, “I think that’s the right thing to do. When I get to Harrisburg I’ll get together with Rep. Cruz to see if we can do something of that magnitude.”
“The stories and information that folks like (Hector Maisonave and Emerito Bermudez) have, about what they went through in Korea fighting for this country is priceless and powerful stuff,” and should be “honored.”
“This is Boricua, this is our culture,” said a delighted Dinorah Diaz of APM, a leading Latino community-based organization.
A part of a half-dozen Puerto Rican motorcyclists from the Allentown and Bethlehem areas, Efrain Santiago noted that members of his family were part of the 65th Infantry and recalled “hearing stories” about them and how Gen. Douglas MacArthur had praised them for their “courage. determination, resolute will to victory and loyalty to the United States.”
“The 65th fought in some of the key battles of the Korean war, a like Outpost Kelly and Jackson Heights,” added Mr. Santiago, battles where they often (outnumbered) by the Chinese and Korean enemy soldiers.
“The 65th Infantry was mostly Puerto Ricans but there were other Latinos,” including Mexicans and Cubans, observed Mr. Santiago. “ And for Latino kids who hear a lot about (war) heroes, now -with the street change and other honors- they know they have (Latino) neighbors who have been there and done that.”
The Congressional Gold Medal is being produced by the 65thCGMTeam.com and directed by Sam Rodriguez.