BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. — The 65th Infantry Regiment had their own national recognition day earlier this year after Congress passed the declaration, National Borinqueneers Day on April 13th.
Boynton Beach resident Mark DeJesus is president of the Florida Chapter for the 65th Infantry Regiment Motorcycle Association. DeJesus is also a proud Army veteran. His grandfather, Jose Rivera Vega from Naguabo, Puerto Rico, was part of that infantry.
“He was a mathematician for his time. Very proud of what he did and served with our country,” said DeJesus.
Rivera Vega served in the World Wars under the 65th Infantry Regiment.
“He was sent to Trinidad. They tried to keep the Nazis away from that in the strategic environment. So, they sent him over there, and I guess they forgot about the soldiers they took from Puerto Rico to Trinidad. So, they all took their uniform off and started working with the community,” said DeJesus. “He [Rivera Vega] worked in one of the theaters as a projectionist. Later on, the military found out they, forgot about the soldiers and took them back to wherever they needed to go to continue the World War.”
The 65th Infantry Regiment was mostly comprised of Puerto Rican national guardsmen nicknamed “The Borinqueneers.” The regiment participated in nine out of 10 campaigns during the Korean War and saw significant casualties. One of their biggest achievements was their role during Operation Thunderbolt. This operation paved the way for the Eighth Army to recapture Seoul in 1951.
Even though they accomplished a lot during their time at war, The Borinqueneers also faced adversities.
“During the era, back in the days of Puerto Rico, the mustache was a plus for Puerto Rican men, it meant manhood. So, unfortunately, one of the senior ranks in Korea made them shave their mustache, which was degrading for them,” said DeJesus. “Like I said before, they were segregated, because of their skin color and who they were and being Hispanic. So, things like that, that the Hispanic community has from their background means a lot to them.”
In 2016, The Borinqueneers were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest medal given by Congress.
“On the side, you see the Cruz de Marta, which is the symbol of the 65th,” said DeJesus. “One represents MIA, the other represents KIA, and the other one represents when he came home.”
DeJesus is now seeking more local Borinqueneers to honor them and their families but many have died from COVID-19 and other health complications.
“Unfortunately, about a month and a half, two months ago, we honored him (David Reyes Morales, SSG Retired) on a Saturday, and we received the news that he passed away on a Monday. So for us, it was an honor,” said DeJesus.
This past year Congress passed a National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2021. It included a national recognition day for the 65th on April 13th, National Borinqueneers Day. The legislation marks the day by stating, "to pay tribute to the sacrifices made and adversities overcome by Puerto Rican and Hispanic members of the armed forces.”
“It was another achievement to prove that our soldiers that fought in the Korean War, especially, are real heroes, and they needed to be recognized after so many years,” said DeJesus.
While this unit was comprised primarily of Puerto Rican soldiers, it also consisted of Mexican-Americans and other various ethnicities, making it one of the most ethnically, diverse military units in U.S. history during the Korean War.