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Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony: “Borinqueneers”

Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony: “Borinqueneers”


I want to welcome all of
you to the US Capitol. We are here today to
honor the 65th Infantry Regiment of the US Army– [APPLAUSE] –or, as we prefer to
say, the Borinqueneers. [APPLAUSE] Isn’t that cool? Hey, man. Puerto Rico became a part of
the United States in 1898, and soon after, Congress created
a special unit of Puerto Rican soldiers. They went on to fight
for our country valiantly in both world wars and in Korea. But throughout
their service, they suffered persistent
discrimination. For too long, their
contribution to our history has been overlooked. So today, today, we
are setting the record straight by giving
them the highest award within our possession,
the Congressional Gold Medal. [APPLAUSE] I know a lot of people worked
very hard to make this happen. And I just want to
recognize just a few of them, the people
who made this happen. First of all,
Commissioner Pierluisi. [APPLAUSE] There we are. Congressman Bill Posey. [APPLAUSE] Senator Blumenthal. [APPLAUSE] Senator Rubio. [APPLAUSE] I also want to thank
Governor Padilla. [APPLAUSE] We’d like to thank Secretary
Murphy and Secretary McDonald for joining us as well. [APPLAUSE] Finally, I would like
to point out today that we have here with us
some Borinqueneers themselves. Jose Colon is here
with us today. [APPLAUSE] Manuel Siverio is with us today. [APPLAUSE] And John Palese. Where’s John? [APPLAUSE] I would like to
add that John now lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Go, Packers. [LAUGHTER] So I won’t hold
things up any longer, only to say to our honorees that
we are forever in your debt, and this medal is
long, long overdue. Thank you very much,
and enjoy the program. [APPLAUSE] Ladies and gentlemen,
please stand for the presentation
of the colors by the United States
Army Color Guard, the performance of
our national anthem, and the retiring of the colors. [MUSIC – EDWIN EUGENE BAGLEY,
“NATIONAL EMBLEM”] Halt. Present arms. [MUSIC – “THE STAR SPANGLED
BANNER”] [SINGING] O say can you see by
the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hailed at the
twilight’s last gleaming? Whose broad stripes
and bright stars through the perilous fight
o’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming? And the rocket’s red glare,
the bombs busting in air, gave proof through the night
that our flag was still there. O say does that star-spangled
banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and
the home of the brave? [INAUDIBLE] [MUSIC – EDWIN EUGENE BAGLEY,
“NATIONAL EMBLEM”] Ladies and gentlemen,
please remain standing as the Chaplain of the United
States Senate, Dr. Barry Black, gives the invocation. To our prayer, we thank you
for the honor and fidelity of the US Army’s 65th
Infantry Regiment, composed mainly of
Puerto Rican soldiers that served with
heroism and distinction during both world wars
and the Korean conflict. Lord, we praise you
for this opportunity to acknowledge their
courageous contributions to America’s freedom with
the Congressional Gold Medal. Lord, forgive us for segregating
our Puerto Rican and Latino soldiers and for being
slow to acknowledge their contributions. May this Congressional Gold
Medal ceremony for the intrepid Borinqueneers remind
us that all humanity is wrapped in a
blanket of mutuality and tied to a single
garment of destiny. [SPEAKING SPANISH] Send, send heaven’s richest
blessings upon this ceremony, as you hasten the
day when justice will roll down like
waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. We pray in your sovereign name. Amen. Please be seated. Ladies and gentlemen,
Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico, the
Honorable Pedro Pierluisi. The US territory of Puerto
Rico faces enormous challenges. It has been difficult
for my constituents and I to see the island
we love suffer. And it is easy to lose spirit
as the good name of your home is tarnished, too often
associated with the negative rather than the positive. That is why, even though the
Korean War ended 60 years ago, today’s ceremony could
not be more timely. The American soldiers
from Puerto Rico, who formed the core of the
65th Infantry Regiment, remind the public of the
extraordinary contributions that Puerto Rico has made
to this country since 1898 in times of both war and peace. The Borinqueneers remind me
and the 3.5 million US citizens I represent why we’re so proud
to be Puerto Rican at a time when our sense of
pride has been shaken, but never, ever shattered. We should draw strength and
inspiration from their legacy and emulate their example. After all, this band
of brothers overcame adversity of the
most extreme sort, fighting the enemy on the
front lines of the battlefield while also fighting
discrimination back in the barracks. These warriors may have
spoken English with an accent, but their service and sacrifice
were universally understood. The men of the 65th Infantry
Regiment, many of whom are here today, but many
more of whom did not live to enjoy this
glorious moment, represent the human
spirit at its best. Brave, tough, devoted to
their duty and to each other. Puerto Rico has always
had this nation’s back in times of crisis. It takes a special
kind of patriotism to fight for a
country that you love, but one that does not
treat you equally. To the Borinqueneers,
those who are leaving and those who left left us, I
want to simply say, thank you. [SPEAKING SPANISH] God bless the Borinqueneers and
the United States of America. [APPLAUSE] Ladies and gentlemen,
United States Representative from the Eighth
District of Florida, the Honorable Bill Posey. Good afternoon,
ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests,
and especially the heroes of the 65th
Infantry Regiment. This is truly a
momentous day, one which will honor
to the gallantry of this decorated unit and the
valor of each of its soldiers. During the darkest
days the Korean War, the 65th Infantry
Regiment fought some of the fiercest
battles under some of the harshest conditions. And they did so
as the military’s last segregated unit, a true
testimony to their character. It was the now-famous battle
of Chosin Reservoir, one of the greatest withdrawals
in American history, that the 65th Infantry Regiment
fearlessly provided cover for the 1st Marine Division. Their actions earned high praise
from General Douglas MacArthur, who said, “They are writing
a brilliant record of heroism in battle and I am indeed proud
to have them under my command. I wish that we could count
many more like them.” For its extraordinary
service in the Korean War, the Regiment earned
a medal of honor, nine Distinguished Service
Crosses, approximately 250 Silver Stars, over
600 Bronze Stars, and more than 2,700
Purple Hearts. Today the Borinqueneers
join the ranks of the most intrepid American
warriors who have received the Congressional Gold Medal. I’d like to recognize the
efforts of hundreds of people in the Borinqueneer community
whose dedication resulted in this worthy distinction. I’d also like to acknowledge a
group of exceptional students from St. Luke’s Lutheran
School in Oviedo, Florida. These students took
it upon themselves to embrace the legacy
of the Borinqueneers and pay tribute to
their achievements of the 65th Infantry Regiment. Congratulations, Borinqueneers. Thank you for your fierce
courage and exceptional service to our country. May God continue to
bless you and the United States of America. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Ladies and gentlemen,
United States Senator from Connecticut, the
Honorable Richard Blumenthal. [SPEAKING SPANISH] –because I’m going
to be followed by Marco Rubio, who will
correct me when I get it wrong. And I want to thank Senator
Rubio for his partnership in this effort, as well as my
colleagues, Senator McConnell and Senator Reid, who were so
instrumental in making possible this extraordinary day. There are very few magic
moments in this place, but this time is one of them. And it was made possible by
truly a bipartisan effort. We ought to see more like it
in the United States Congress. [APPLAUSE] I want to thank the
Borinqueneers who are here today, particularly my friends
from Connecticut, Celestino Cordova and Jose Pickard. Thank you for being here. They inspired me in Connecticut. And then when I visited the
Borinqueneers in Puerto Rico to see their history
displayed in photographs and to hear from them the
stories of their bravery and others of men who
did not come back– they are American warriors. They are American
fighters and patriots in the best and bravest
sense of the word. And we honor them today in a
proud tradition, the tradition of the Tuskegee Airmen,
the Montford Point Marines, the Navajo Code
Talkers, men who braved and overcome and defied the
insult of discrimination and even segregation, who showed
us how to be better Americans. [APPLAUSE] The men and women of
Puerto Rico are Americans. And their contribution
to America’s defense and, most importantly, the
ideals of the American dream, the ideals of freedom
and opportunity and equal rights under
the law, are remarkable not just in war, but in peace. And the Borinqueneers
came back from war and continued to serve and
sacrifice for our great nation. We are the greatest nation
in the history of the world, but we are imperfect. And the Borinqueneers remind
us that their journey and ours will never end as
long as we tolerate the imperfection of
discrimination and segregation in this country. And I want to thank them for
giving us this opportunity to recognize and celebrate
their patriotism, their courage, their strength, resilience,
and resolve that will make our nation
better and continue to make us the greatest nation
in the history of the world. God bless you, and God
bless our great country. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Ladies and gentlemen, United
States Senator from Florida, the Honorable Marco Rubio. Thank you very much. First of all, I
was very impressed with Senator
Blumenthal’s Spanish. And for those of you
who don’t speak Spanish, he basically just
said he saved a bunch of money on his car insurance
by switching to Geico, so– [LAUGHTER] [SPEAKING SPANISH] And I want to thank him as
well for the opportunity to work with him on this
very important issue. We’re gathered here
today for a moment that’s been years in the making
and, quite frankly, many years overdue. And I do want to
say from the outset that as a member
of the US Congress, I wish we could have honored
you with this medal sooner. I join all the
Borinqueneers present today in remembering your
brothers-in-arms who passed away before
this day could come, including those who have died
since this legislation was signed by the president in 2014. It is my hope that the more
than 1,000 Borinqueneers still living throughout
the United States, as well as the family
members of those who have fallen and
departed or are missing in action– that they will know
at last that their service has received the ultimate tribute
from a grateful nation. Over the years, even in the
shadow of unequal treatment, your regiment never
faltered and never failed to prove just how valuable it
is to the cause of freedom. My favorite example
was Operation PORTREX, when the Borinqueneers
were tasked with playing the role
of the enemy aggressors in a military exercise. They were able to
halt a group of more than 32,000 American troops. And after seeing their skill,
our Army commanders wisely, quickly deployed them into
the heart of the Korean War after seeing their capabilities. It has been one
of my great honors as a senator to be
involved in the effort to secure the Congressional
Gold Medal for the Borinqueneers by having the opportunity to
co-sponsor the legislation that passed in 2014. Today I’d like to thank two
congressionally designated liaisons to the
US Mint who worked to ensure that this medal would
be as impressive as it turned out, Sam Rodriguez and
Javier Morales, both of whom are Army veterans themselves. I would also want to echo
what Congressman Posey said about the St. Luke’s Lutheran
school in Oviedo, Florida. And several of them are here
today along with their teacher, Mrs. Carla Cotto-Ford, who
is the granddaughter of two Borinqueneers. Mrs. Ford and her
students raised thousands of dollars
in their community towards an ongoing
national effort to ensure that every
living Borinqueneer would receive a replica of the
Congressional Gold Medal. [APPLAUSE] The passionate efforts of
Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Morales and Mrs. Ford and her
students, and so many others who have labored to
make this day a reality, is part of what makes
this medal so special. It reminds us that the
legacy of past generations of Borinqueneers who
fought and died for America is indeed a living legacy. Today that legacy,
alive and well, reminds us that America is
truly an exceptional country. Ours is a nation
made up of people from all different backgrounds
and all different cultures who came together as one nation. Because we share a common
idea, that everyone deserves the freedom to
exercise their God-given rights. Each member of the 65th
Infantry Regiment fought. They fought for that freedom,
not just for themselves. They fought for every
man and woman and child in these United
States of America. So in closing, to
the Borinqueneers, I’d like to say congratulations
on the unveiling of your well-deserved
Congressional Gold Medal. And more importantly,
on behalf of my staff, on behalf of my children and
of the people of Florida, I say thank you. Thank you for your service. Thank you for your
courage, and thank you for fighting to make this
nation the best it can be. [SPEAKING SPANISH] And may God always bless the
United States of America. [SPEAKING SPANISH] Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Ladies and gentlemen, the
United States Army Band, Pershing’s Own. [MUSIC – “LA BORINQUENA”] [SINGING SPANISH] [APPLAUSE] Ladies and gentlemen,
the Democratic Leader of the United States
House of Representatives, the Honorable Nancy Pelosi. Good afternoon, everyone. It’s my honor to join our
speaker and our leaders in the Senate in welcoming
you all to the Capitol on this very special
day for all of us. A privilege to have each
and every one of you here along with the Secretary
of Veterans Affairs McDonald and Acting Secretary of
the Army Patrick Murphy. I’m pleased to join Leader
McConnell and Leader Reid in this very personal
Gold Medal award ceremony. It is such a special day to
join our colleague, Resident Commissioner
Pierluisi, who is part of the sponsorship
of the legislation, and thank all of the
other sponsors as well. Our advocate for this in the
House of Representatives, Nydia Velazquez, who
is here with us today. [APPLAUSE] And of course, a special honor
to welcome Governor Padilla of Puerto Rico to the House. [APPLAUSE] Just in case everyone
hadn’t been introduced, we had to go over it some more. It is an honor to
join all of you as we bestow the
Congressional Gold Medal on the legendary,
proudful, dignified 65th Infantry Regiment. Honor and fidelitas. Honor and fidelity. So rings the motto of
this courageous regiment of Americans. First formed, as has been
said, as a unit of Puerto Rican volunteers, this unit
was re-designated as the 65th Infantry
Regiment in 1920. With honor and fidelity,
the 65th Infantry overcame prejudice
and bigotry and wrote a new chapter of heroism in
our shared American story. That is part of their legacy. In the Panama Canal
Zone in World War I, later, on the doorstep of
Nazi Germany, in the defining crucible of the Korean War,
and beyond, Borinqueneers protected freedom abroad
and advanced dignity for Puerto Rican and
Latino Americans at home. In the Korean War in
particular, the Borinqueneers astounded their commanders
with their spectacular valor and courage. They taught lessons. They enriched our nation with
the strength of their service, through the excellence
of their example and the power of their bravery. The Borinqueneers’
valor under fire is nothing short of legendary. And it’s no accident that the
US Army’s first Latino general in the US Army, General
Richard Cavazos, is a proud veteran
of the 65th Infantry. I believe he’s
with us here today. General, are you here? Please rise and be acknowledged. [APPLAUSE] The first four-star general. I should speak directly to your
heroic service, all of you. It’s truly one of the
great American stories. It’s not just about
what you did then, which is a proud legacy
and a dignified legacy. It’s also the fact that others
from the Latino-American community– Puerto
Ricans and others– followed in your
footsteps and are a very important part
of the national security of our country. I know that my colleagues would
agree that where we ever we travel in the world to visit
our men and women in uniform, including in some of the US
hospitals around the world, we see and meet Latino-American
brave men and women in uniform who are fighting, who have
fought, for our country. You should take some
satisfaction in your leadership role. And that is part of your legacy. [APPLAUSE] Again, as Senator
Blumenthal mentioned, this regiment stands among
some of the most honored names in American military history,
units who overcame the worst brands of discrimination for
the right to defend our country. Today, we add to the
rolls of our most courageous and trailblazing
Congressional Gold Medal honorees, the Native American
code talkers, the Nisei 100th Infantry Battalion of the
Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Tuskegee
Airmen, and the Montford Point Marines. Imagine, they were out
there fighting for freedom. You were out there fighting for
freedom while being deprived of it in many cases at home. Again, you were making
America more American. [APPLAUSE] To these ranks of heroes,
it is our privilege to add the 65th
Infantry Regiment. To the veterans of the 65th
Infantry Regiment with us today, and to your families
who shared your sacrifice and contribution to America–
to all those around the country, thank you. Thank you for your service,
your leadership, your courage. Thank you for your
honor and your fidelity. Thank you for defending
freedom and enriching our great democracy. Thank you for blessing
America with your service. God bless you. God bless America. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Ladies and gentlemen,
the Democratic Leader of the United States Senate,
the Honorable Harry Reid. [APPLAUSE] On May 19, I was given a
unique honor, but it was 1996. I represented the
United States Senate at the dedication of the
Monument of Remembrance in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I’ll never forget that day. I was a fairly new senator,
and it was a beautiful day. I can remember the hot sun. I can remember the
crowd that was there. I can still picture that
dedication in my mind’s eye. The new monument looked
exquisite in that great Puerto Rican sky, reflected off
the round granite wall the bears the names
of every Puerto Rican who had fallen in defense
of the United States. World War I, World
War II, and Korea. And Vietnam. But what I remember
most isn’t the spectacle of the dedication. Rather, I’ll always
remember the feeling that prevailed at that dedication. The honor of those
veterans in attendance– we could all feel it. The reverence for
the service members who paid the ultimate
price– we could feel it. And the immense gratitude
the people of Puerto Rico had for their veterans– the
same emotions are with us today as we honor the 65th
Infantry Regiment. To be sure, this honor
is real late in coming. We’ve had a number
of people say that. But in spite of the 65th
Infantry Regiment’s heroism and valor during the Korean War
as well as the other conflicts I’ve mentioned, its
efforts were unrecognized for far too long by Congress
and by the American people. As one member of the
Regiment said, and I quote, “We lost so many. The American people don’t know
the sacrifice of so many Puerto Ricans who died in Korea. It was the bloodiest
war for Puerto Rico.” Close quote. The sacrifices of service
members from Puerto Rico were disproportionately large. 740 Puerto Ricans died
in the Korean conflict. 2,300 were wounded, many
of them grievously wounded. 121 are still missing in action. The 65th Infantry Regiment
paid a terrible price, a price for freedom,
our freedom. But they also left
an incredible example of service and patriotism that
tens of thousand Puerto Ricans have followed by enlisting
in the armed services. It was an exemplary
service of military folks in all those conflicts,
but especially Korea. So today, all across
the world, Puerto Ricans are still fighting and
sacrificing for our country. Throughout the war on terror
and the combined operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, 70
Puerto Ricans have been killed, and 378 have been
wounded, all in combat. The brave men and women of
Puerto Rico who serve today are following the footsteps
of the 65th Infantry Regiment. They will always be remembered
for their heroic efforts. They’ll be remembered by
their fathers and mothers and grandfathers
and grandmothers. And all Puerto Ricans will
remember the sacrifices of the Korean conflict. And we should do the same. And I’m confident I will,
and I hope we all do. May we as a nation never
forget the 65th proud Infantry Regiment. [APPLAUSE] Ladies and gentlemen,
the Majority Leader of the United States Senate,
the Honorable Mitch McConnell. [APPLAUSE] Christmas Eve is a special
time for many of us. It’s an evening filled with love
and anticipation, confections, and devotion. That’s true whether you’re
in Louisville or Las Vegas, Anchorage or Austin,
Seattle or San Juan. If you happened to be in San
Juan one particular Christmas Eve in 1950, you might have
seen families celebrating over elaborate dinners. You might have detected
the smells of roast pork and the faint melodies
of familiar songs like “Silent Night.” And maybe, just
maybe, you might have detected a recognizable
echo from half a world away, the sound of
soldiers singing in Spanish the very same song. It could’ve been a
song of gratitude for hot showers and
warm meals, or song of remembrance for comrades
lost, or a song of celebration for one of the
greatest withdrawals in modern military history. What we do know is this. The men singing that Christmas
Eve off the coast of North Korea were proud members
of the 65th Infantry Regiment, the Borinqueneers. These soldiers had just
faced a daunting mission. Help Korea, refugees, and
fellow American soldiers escape encirclement
from over 100,000 Communist Chinese
troops, troops that not only outnumbered
the Americans but carried orders
to annihilate them. Outgunned and outmanned
though the 65th may have been, these soldiers courageously
marched forward through subzero temperatures,
through mountainous terrain, and right into heavy gunfire. Near the beaches of Hungnam,
the 65th Infantry Regiment swung into action, providing
rear-guard assistance to the 1st Marine Division. What these soldiers achieved
at the Chosin Reservoir helped thousands
maneuver to safety. The men of the 65th
lost many comrades, but they stayed behind
until the job was done. They were among the last to
evacuate on Christmas Eve. It’s no wonder General Douglas
MacArthur praised this regiment for its valor, determination,
and a resolute will to victory. These soldiers, he said, were
writing a brilliant record of achievement. It’s a record that began in
the sometimes hellish theaters of both World War
I and World War II. It continued across fierce
battles in the Korean War. And what these men achieved is
all the more remarkable when you consider the other
obstacles they often had to confront at
the very same time. So we’re proud
today to have some of these brave men and
their families here with us. We also honor the soldiers
who can’t be here. We remember the
wounded, the missing, and those who made the
ultimate sacrifice. The soldiers of the
65th Infantry Regiment distinguished themselves
with a number of high honors in the Korean War. As others have
said, nearly a dozen Distinguished Service Crosses,
some 250 Silver Stars, more than 600 Bronze Stars,
and over 2,700 Purple Hearts. We add to that today with
the highest civilian honor Congress can bestow. The Congressional
Gold Medal is an honor that’s been granted to our
country’s most distinguished military units,
from the Doolittle’s Raiders and the Navajo
Code Talkers to the Fighter Aces and the Tuskegee Airmen. We now present it to
a group of soldiers who distinguished
themselves with bravery and a determination
to never stop writing that brilliant,
brilliant record of achievement. [APPLAUSE] Ladies and gentlemen,
the Speaker of the United States
House of Representatives, the Honorable Paul D. Ryan. When you start learning
about the Borinqueneers and their history, the question
that keeps coming to mind is, would you
fight for a country that discriminated against you? Would you fight in an Army that
puts you in a segregated unit? And would you fight
without any guarantee that one day, way down
the line, your country would finally
recognize your service? Because these men–
they did that. It takes a certain
caliber of man to do that. I recently heard a story that
makes this point beautifully. It’s about one of the men I
mentioned earlier, John Palese. He was a doctor
serving in Korea. One day, a Korean couple
came to his aid station with a very, very sick baby. He had a severe
case of pneumonia. Well, there was this new
wonder drug called penicillin, and John knew, he knew,
that it would save the boy. But there were strict
rules about its use. You were supposed to give
it to American soldiers, and American soldiers only. John later said, “I just could
not simply let that baby die.” And so he gave their
son an injection. Six weeks later, the couple
came to visit John at his aid station– now
very, very far away from where he had
originally met them– and thanked him for
curing their son. In exchange, they offered
him a big bag of chestnuts, and he gladly accepted. I tell you this story,
just a simple story, because I think it
illustrates what we admire in the Borinqueneers. They showed us that, time again,
courage does not know color. Decency does not pick sides. These men did not fight to
preserve the status quo. They fought to make
their country better, and they succeeded. Their decency was so plain,
their courage very obvious, that now the whole country has
honored them for their valor. The story of the 65th
Infantry Regiment is full of heroism
and sacrifice. And with this medal,
the Borinqueneers– we are weaving that
story into this fabric of American history. And now that history is so
the much brighter for it. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] And now it’s my
pleasure to invite Colonel Siverio and
Sergeant Major Colon to the stage for
the presentation along with the delegation here. [APPLAUSE] [CHEERING] Ladies and gentlemen,
Borinqueneer Colonel Manuel Siviero. [APPLAUSE] Mr. Speaker of the House,
honorable members of Congress, fellow Borinqueneers– [APPLAUSE] –friends, thank
you for the honor of allowing me to
join this assembly of distinguished
members of Congress to represent the 65th
Infantry Regiment, also known as the Borinqueneers,
for which I was part. On behalf of the men who
were members of the Regiment, it is a distinct
privilege for me to receive this highly
prestigious award, the Congressional Gold Medal. It is a well-deserved
tribute to the brave men that fought many hard battles
in Korea, those who survive as well as those who lost
their lives in combat. Their devotion to duty and many
acts of valor against the enemy demonstrated their
skills and their loyalty to the United States. General William Harris, a former
commander of the 65th Infantry Regiment, in combat in the
early part of the Korean War expressed it best
when he said, and I quote, “No group has
greater pride in itself and its heritage than
the Puerto Rican people. [APPLAUSE] Nor have I encountered
any that could be more dedicated in support
of the democratic principles for which the United
States stands.” [APPLAUSE] I accept this medal in the name
of all living Borinqueneers, the families of those who
lost their loved ones, the families of over
100 missing in action and whose remains have
not been recovered. Thank you again for remembering
us, the 65th Infantry Regiment, for our dedicated effort and our
extreme sacrifice in many cases in battles against the enemy. God bless you. [APPLAUSE] Ladies and gentlemen, the United
States Army Band and Chorus, Pershing’s Own. [MUSIC – “EN MI VIEJO SAN JUAN”] [SINGING SPANISH] [APPLAUSE] [SINGING SPANISH] [APPLAUSE] Ladies and gentlemen,
the Acting Secretary of the United States Army,
the Honorable Patrick Murphy. [APPLAUSE] Now how can you
follow Pershing’s Own? I will say one thing. Let me tell you something. I thought being Secretary
of the Army was a hard job, but Sergeant and Pershing,
you guys were awesome. Round of applause. [APPLAUSE] With Speaker Ryan’s permission,
next time, though, Sergeant, we will got to get Congresswoman
Nydia Velazquez from New York. She was singing the whole time. She even had Steny Hoyer
dancing next to her, so– But honestly, were
they not awesome? They were terrific, so– [APPLAUSE] First off the bat,
Speaker Ryan, thank you so much for hosting us. And to all the national
political leaders here, thank you so much
for your leadership to make this today a reality. [APPLAUSE] And of course, the
other speakers– I want to echo their remarks. But there are some great
military leaders here that are present. We have our great Adjutant
General of Puerto Rico. Ma’am, thank you so
much for being here. We are so proud of
your leadership. [APPLAUSE] This is an historic
year for our army, in that we had three women
graduate from Ranger School. And there’s a great
general officer right there who is one of the
leaders, one of the mentors, of this next generation. So thank you so much, ma’am. [APPLAUSE] We also have the Vice Chief of
Staff of the Army, General Dan Allyn, that is here. Sir. [APPLAUSE] And General Tim Kadavy, who
is head of our reserves. So thank you so
much, General Kadavy. [APPLAUSE] Now, we are here to
recognize the Borinqueneers for their time in
Korea, although they have fought in two world wars. They have led in so many
efforts for our nation. But there are two members of
Congress that are also here that are also
Korean War veterans. Congressman Sam Johnson, who I’m
not sure if he’s here or not. We also have Congressman
Charlie Rangel. Charlie, thank you so much
for your leadership, sir. [APPLAUSE] And let me just say something
about the Borinqueneers. Their service in uniform was
extraordinary over generations. But as an Iraq War veteran
of this generation, and now in this role, I will say
it’s the Korean War generation and the Vietnam
generation that made sure that when my
generation came home, we were welcomed with open arms. And we owe you a
debt of gratitude for welcoming us home and
make us feel like brothers. Thank you so very much,
every single one of you. [APPLAUSE] As Speaker Ryan
said, it could’ve been easy to look down. It could have been
easy to turn your back. It could have been easy to
put that uniform away and not serve anymore. But every single
one of you show what it means to be an
American soldier, to be a soldier
for life, that when you wear the cloth of our
country, the love of our nation is stamped in your
heart forever. And you continue to serve. You continue to be civic
assets in our community all over the world. And when speaker
Ryan told that story about that young colonel over
there with penicillin– sir, I saw you shaking
your head because you didn’t like the recognitions. Our soldiers, we’re
quiet professionals. I’m trying to get us to be a
little bit more swag, a little more confidence. But let me tell you something. You saved that boy’s life. Wherever an American
soldier goes in this world, we make a positive
difference– in your generation and my generation– and it’s
hard to see it in real time. But you ask the
people of Afghanistan. There’s millions of girls
that are going to school now that never went to school
before in Afghanistan. That’s because the American
soldier and our troops. We have a lot to
be grateful for. [APPLAUSE] Now, Colonel Siverio,
your eloquent speech– we appreciate it. I will tell you, you look
like an American paratrooper. I see his Combat Infantry
Badge on a soldier. Let me tell you, Colonel, Dan
Allyn and I are paratroopers. We could get you to
jump out of a plane and out of Fort
Bragg, North Carolina. You want to come and join
us, you’re still in shape to do this kind of thing. I think we might
need to recruit you. He does look good, yeah? He does look good. I think he’s a married man now,
but he does look very good. [LAUGHTER] But the heart of
the Borinqueneers and the heart of
an American soldier is what we’re celebrating today. And it’s an honor as your
secretary of the army to be here to celebrate with
each and every one of you. God bless you, and
God bless America. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Ladies and gentlemen, the
United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the
Honorable Robert McDonald. Good afternoon. I’m pleased to be able to add
my congratulations to everyone who’s had a hand in
making this day happen, especially to those
veterans who’ve earned this award
through their valorous and pioneering service. My mission, and the
mission of my department, is to care for those who “have
borne the battle,” in President Lincoln’s words, and for their
families and their survivors. It’s the best and the
most inspiring mission in government, serving the
best and most deserving clients in the world. The proof is right here
among us in the veterans of the 65th Infantry
Regiment, the Borinqueneers. This honor is long
overdue, but I want you all to know that the
veterans of Puerto Rico have never been forgotten
by the American people. VA has been caring for
them for longer than it’s been a department,
providing them the same care and benefits available
to other veterans. Over 60,000 veterans are
interred at the Puerto Rico National Cemetery in Bayamon,
where the names, ranks, branches, wartime services
of each one of them are etched in stone
for all to see. Among them is Master Sergeant
Juan Enrique Negron-Martinez, a native of Corozal,
Puerto Rico. Negron enlisted in the Army
in 1948 and in April 1951 was serving in Korea with
Company L, 65th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division. When his company was forced
to withdraw by enemy attack, Negron stayed behind
and single-handedly stopped the enemy from
seizing the roadblock his company was defending. He held his position. And he held it through
the entire night, buying time for his company
to regroup and successfully counterattack. And for his bravery,
he was recently awarded the nation’s
highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor. [APPLAUSE] I’ll be in Puerto
Rico later this month to visit with veterans at the
VA medical center in San Juan and to participate in
the ceremony marking the awarding of the
Congressional Gold Medal to the veterans of
the 65th Infantry beneath the walls of El Morro,
the old Spanish fort guarding San Juan harbor, where the 65th
fired the first American shots of World War I. While there, I will also visit
the National Cemetery to pay my respects, on
behalf of the nation, to the Borinqueneers who did
not live to see that day– or, to see this day– but
who are finally now receiving the recognition they
so richly deserve. They will always be remembered. That’s President
Lincoln’s promise. That’s the VA’s promise. And that’s my promise as well. May God bless you
all and God bless the United States of America. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Ladies and gentlemen,
please stand as the Chaplain of
the United States House of Representatives,
Father Patrick Conroy, gives the benediction. Let us pray. [SPEAKING SPANISH] May the hands and
hearts of this nation be raised in prayer and
praise for this Puerto Rican unit, which served our nation
and the hope of freedom for all of the world. Through three wars,
the Borinqueneers chose to serve while
they were still not completely welcome to
share in the fullness of the American social fabric. Even so, the unit earn
thousands of military honors for their service. May the breath of God uphold
their noble and heroic story. May it carry to
other generations, and even to other
nations, a message to inspire citizens
everywhere to serve without counting the cost. May those who made the
ultimate sacrifice, those who etched out
historic victories, and those who
suffered personally the pain of discrimination in
those dark days of our world and our nation be rewarded
with success and find peace. Bless all women and men
in military service– no matter their
racial, cultural, or religious heritage–
and their families. God bless America, and grant
us peace both in the present and with you forever. Amen.


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