By Rafael Collazo, Director of Political Campaigns, NCLR
Veterans’ Day is a special day on the calendar for me. It brings to mind the amazing lives of my two abuelos: Alfredo Gonzalez and Rafael Collazo. Both men grew up with modest means in Puerto Rico in the early part of the 20th century. They both also enlisted in the military to serve their country as well as provide for their families. In those days, the U.S. military served as one of the few outlets for poor Latinos to move up the economic ladder. It also provided Hispanics a rare opportunity to display their talents and patriotism to the larger American society. This distinct platform is a major reason why so many Hispanics have and continue to serve our country with great pride.
Their service is one of the hallmarks of our family to this day. Don Alfredo loves to share tales of his time at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. He fell in love with politics through the Viva Kennedy campaign of 1960 that was being organized by local Mexican American activists, including the legendary Raymond Telles. That experience inspired my grandfather to stay involved in politics his entire life. He even served as Puerto Rico’s Sergeant-at-Arms in the late 1980s. Similarly, Don Rafa continued to serve others through civic life after his time fighting in World War II. These role models are the reason I have dedicated my own career to advocacy and civil rights.
This legacy came has come around full circle with the ongoing campaign to recognize the 65th Infantry Regiment, the “Borinqueneers,” with the Congressional Gold Medal. Once bestowed, it will be the highest award ever for any group of Hispanic veterans.
The Borinqueneers was the only Hispanic-segregated active-duty unit ever in the U.S. Armed Forces that played a prominent role in three U.S. wars. The most prominent military achievements of the 65th Infantry Regiment came during the Korean War where the unit participated in nine major campaigns and earned two Presidential Unit Citations, a Meritorious Unit Commendation, and two Republic of Korea Unit Citations. More than 3,000 65th Infantry soldiers were wounded, and more than 700 were killed. Individual members have earned 10 Distinguished Service Crosses, 258 Silver Stars, 628 Bronze Stars, and more than 2,700 Purple Hearts.
The ongoing effort of Hispanic veterans’ groups led by the Borinqueneers Gold Medal Alliance has led to the bipartisan congressional bills H.R. 1726 and S. 1174 being introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Along with dozens of congressional co-sponsors and other allied partner Latino advocacy groups, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) wholeheartedly supports the efforts to have the 65th Infantry receive the Congressional Gold Medal. This distinction will catapult the service of all Hispanic veterans past, present, and future into the national spotlight, including the service of my dear abuelos.
Awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the Borinqueneers is consistent with NCLR’s organizational values of patriotism, public service excellence, and civic empowerment. On this Veterans’ Day, let’s not forget the service of our Hispanic veterans and the freedoms they defended for all of us.