The Korean War has long been remembered as The Forgotten War.
Especially forgotten were a band of Puerto Rican soldiers who made up the 65th Infantry Regiment and fought gallantly in that bloody conflict.
They were honored Nov. 30 with a street co-naming at Southern Blvd and Westchester Avenue in the largely working poor Longwood-Hunts Point neighborhood, home to second and third generation Puerto Ricans.
Elected leaders joined the ever-shrinking roster of combat unit veterans to pull the drape off “La 65th de Infanteria” street sign.
Based in Puerto Rico, the regiment had been fighting for the United States since World War I. It was eventually nicknamed the Borinqueneers – combining Boricua, a Puerto Rican native, and buccaneer.
Its members etched a spot in U.S. history in February 1951 after leading the last battalion-sized bayonet charge against the Chinese 149th Division, North Korea’s allies.
“That sign says…we will remain a free people so long as we have Puerto Rican soldiers who will fight the last fight to guarantee it,” said Anthony Mele, head of the 65th Infantry Task Force committee. Mele said he first called for a street renaming 12 years ago.
Samuel Vasquez, a tank driver among the thousand or so unit soldiers taking on the 10,000 Chinese, said he always remembers the body count on both sides.
“There was a lot of killing there,” he said quietly.
He called the street co-naming “an honor.”
Another ceremony attendee, Thomas Lopez, a Puerto Rican native and 65th Infantry veteran during the Korean War, waited sixty years for the honor.
“This is the first time we’ve been recognized by the government,” noted Lopez, a Grand Concourse resident who volunteers at the James J. Peters Veterans Administration Hospital in Kingsbridge.
After leaving Korea, life was never the same, said Lopez. On top of experiencing the brutality of war, Lopez said he confronted racism for the first time.
“Not only were we fighting but we were discriminated,” he said, recalling the time he visited a segregated barracks only to be turned away by the black and white units.
Still, he is never shy to say he’s proud to have served the United States.
South Bronx Councilwoman Maria Del Carmen Arroyo, who pushed for the street renaming with help from Councilman Joel Rivera, had some personal reasons. Her father – served with the 65th Infantry in wartime.
“My father became just a shadow of a man he could’ve been,” said Arroyo, sobbing as she delivered her remarks at nearby Urban Health Plan, which played host to the ceremony.
Arroyo was joined by the borough’s caucus of lawmakers with Puerto Rican origins – Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo, Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., his father Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., Councilman Rivera, and Assemblyman Marcos Crespo.
David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383