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the-puerto-rican-experience

THE PUERTO RICAN EXPERIENCE
PUERTO RICANS IN THE U.S. ARMED FORCES

A full history of Puerto Ricans in the military would be more information than a chapter or two can hold, but a sampling of accomplishments by Puerto Ricans will show the invaluable asset this group of people is to us all. Not only the Medal of Honor recipients but also the everyday people who have served in our armed forces exemplify the best of not just the Latino but also the Human Spirit. A long tradition of service to the country by Latin men and women has been recorded. It is the hope to share some of this history of our countrymen and women with you.

Puerto Ricans have been part of the American military since the Civil War, and when the island became part of the United States in 1898 Puerto Ricans have been part of every major battle the U.S. has had. The first shot of World War 1 was fired by Lieutenant Colonel Teofilo Marxuach a Puerto Rican in Puerto Rico at a German U-boat supply ship leaving San Juan harbor forcing its return allowing it to be commandeered.

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U.S. Puerto Rican history includes the fact that since World War II, Puerto Rico has suffered more casualties per capita than any other US jurisdiction, and the rate is among the highest in the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Pentagon statistics.” (Bryan Bender, 2006)

During World War II, 65,000 Puerto Ricans served. Over 300,000 had signed up but Army policy was different then. Most served in segregated units, like the Regular Army’s 65th Infantry Regiment or the Puerto Rican National Guard’s 295th and 296th Infantry Regiments in Puerto Rico, who were deployed to Panama, the Caribbean, Hawaii, North Africa, Italy, the Maritime Alps of France and Germany. Among those were some 200 Puerto Rican women that served in the Women’s Army Corps during the war.

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Another interesting chapter in Puerto Rican military history is the story of the 65th Regiment, a National Guard unit active to this day and part of Puerto Rico’s legacy. This Army unit was created on July 1, 1898, as “The Porto Rico Regiment of Infantry, United States Army." "The Borinqueneers," as the 65th Regiment came to be known, began as a segregated unit and known as the Puerto Rico Battalion of Volunteer Infantry but eventually was integrated into the Army as the 65th Regiment.

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Shipped to Korea in September 1950, the 65th would earn a reputation as brave and tenacious soldiers and eventually lost 732 men in 10 battles. One hundred twenty-five would be recipients of the Silver Star. Four would be recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross. The 65th also earned Presidential Unit and Meritorious Service commendations.

The 65th Infantry returned to Puerto Rico and was deactivated in 1956. However, Brigadear General Juan Cordero, Puerto Rico's Adjutant General, persuaded the Department of the Army to transfer the 65th Infantry from the regular Army to the Puerto Rico National Guard. This was the only unit ever transferred from active component Army to the National Guard.

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A sampling of firsts for Hispanics in the military reveals to us that General Richard E. Cavazos was the first Hispanic four-star general in the Army; and Lieutenant General Elwood R. Quesada was the first Hispanic general officer in the Air Force. Brigadier General Luis R. Esteves (pictured above) was the first Puerto Rican graduate of West Point and founder of the Puerto Rican National Guard. Hispanics have served as general and flag officers in the military and their contribution is an invaluable part of our military.

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To continue in this vein, after President Ford signed legislation in 1975 allowing women to enter the United States service academies Captain Linda Garcia Cubero, of Mexican-American and Puerto Rican heritage graduated the Air Force Academy as part of the first class that included women thus becoming the first Hispanic woman graduate of the Air Force Academy and the first Hispanic woman to graduate from an American Military Academy. Another benchmark was set by Chief Warrant Officer 3 Rose Franco (pictured above) the first female Chief Warrant Officer in the Marine Corps both of these women are fine examples of tenacity and dedication, both are of Puerto Rican heritage.

— Story by: Michael Caro

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