Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) was joined by members of the Hispanic Heritage Council of WNY, Inc. and the Buffalo Hispanic Veterans Organization at a special ceremony in Washington, D.C. formally presenting the Congressional Gold Medal in honor of the 65th Infantry Regiment of the United States Army, also known as the Borinqueneers.
“The Borinqueneers provided remarkable service to a nation that failed to provide these soldiers with the rights, respect and recognition they deserved,” said Congressman Higgins. “This week’s ceremony was a long overdue celebration of their noble service and acknowledgment of gratitude on behalf of a grateful nation.”
Casimiro D. Rodriguez Sr., a member of the National Borinqueneers Congressional Gold Medal Alliance & Chairman of the Hispanic Heritage Council of Western New York Inc. was among those at the event held in Emancipation Hall on Capitol Hill. Also attending with Congressman Higgins was Angelo Otero, President of the Hispanic Veterans Organization in Buffalo and Felicia Cruz, Vice President of Hispanic Veterans Organization in Buffalo and a 10-year veteran of the U.S. Marines who served in Iraq.
"To be able to witness the day's activities on Capitol Hill, it truly gave me the sense of welcome home for these veterans; it was a proud moment and experience that will live with me for the rest of my life,” said Cas Rodriguez, Sr. “To see the expression on their faces told a story of honor, courage, and proud service to their country. The dedication of one of the highest medals that anyone in our nation can receive makes us all proud of our veterans, while not forgetting those that paid the ultimate price for the freedom we all share as Americans."
Higgins also marked the historic event during remarks on the House Floor:
Mr. Speaker, I rise to honor the Sixty-fifth Infantry Regiment, a segregated Puerto Rican unit known as the Borinqueneers.
“The Regiment was created in 1917 and remained segregated throughout World Wars One and Two and most of the Korean War, even after President Truman ordered the desegregation of the armed forces.
“These soldiers sacrificed everything for a country that had not yet embraced the rights of Hispanic Americans, a shame for our country but a show of incredible loyalty and service by those who served.
“Today House and Senate leaders will present a Congressional Gold Medal in honor of the 65th Infantry Regiment. In attendance will be Casimiro D. Rodriguez Sr., Chairman of the Hispanic Heritage Council of Western New York. I thank Cas and the others who worked so hard to make sure that Americans will never forget the service of the 65th Infantry Regiment.”
The soldiers of the 65th Regiment were highly decorated earning one Medal of Honor, nine Distinguished Service Crosses, 250 Silver Stars, over 600 Bronze Stars, and more than 2,700 Purple Hearts.
Congressman Higgins was a cosponsor of the bill awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the Borinqueneers. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award given by Congress. It is awarded to those who have performed an achievement that has impacted American history and culture. Others receiving the medal include, but are not limited to: George Washington in 1776, Rosa Parks in 1999, Pope John Paul II in 2000, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. & Coretta Scott King in 2004, the Tuskegee Airmen in 2006 and the Victims of 9/11 in 2011.