Memorial Day Spotlight: Blood ties 65th Infantry Regiment of Puerto Rico to Rockland County

Rockland County, New York boasts a rich and textured military contribution parallel to the history of the United States of America, beginning with the American Revolution to current operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Rockland residents own well earned bragging rights when it comes to giving up their sons and daughters to fight America’s battles.

Let’s add another layer to that history and include another reason for Rockland residents to brag and mourn this  Memorial Day.  Former American Legion Commander Post 199 Peter F. Medina said it best at Saturday’s “flags-in” activity at the old cemetery on Bricktown rd; “Our diversity is our strength. Look at how the Revolutionary New York militias used commando tactics they learned from the Indian tribes against the British, or how the Navajo Code-Talkers code was unbreakable.”

65th Infantry Veterans and Honor Task Force members with SFC Mercado [lower left] Photo credit:  65th Infantry Honor Task Force

65th Infantry Veterans and Honor Task Force members with SFC Mercado [2nd from left] Photo credit: 65th Infantry Honor Task Force

The 65th Infantry Regiment of Puerto Rico also have  Rockland County connections.   SFC Julio Mercado, a highly decorated, U.S. Army, Korean War veteran assigned to the Regiment known as “The Borinqueneers”, resided in West Haverstraw, New York.  He was not only a member of the local American Legion but an active participant of the 65th Infantry Honor Task Force.

The 65th Infantry Honor Task Force was incorporated in Rockland County, 1999, chartered by the Governor and Senate of Puerto Rico to educate the public about, and render honors to, veterans of the 65th Infantry Regiment from Puerto Rico.    The year 2000 marked the 50th Anniversary of the start of the Korean War, also called; “The Forgotten War.”   In perspective, the Korean War lasted 3 years and produced 54, 246 casualties from 1950-1953.  The Viet-Nam War lasted 14 years, 1961–1975, and produced 58,209 casualties over this period.

Korean War veterans never received the recognition they earned.  Others never received the decorations they deserved.  The 65th Infantry Honor Task Force was charged with educating the public, advocating to the government on their behalf, bringing recognition to the Regiment, and honor each veteran where ever they are found.  The Regiments’ soldiers are among the highest decorated for Valor in the U.S. Army for this period.  8 Distinguished Service Medals,  216 Silver Stars and thousands of Bronze Stars were awarded for gallantry in battle.  www.borinqueneers.net

In June 2014, the U.S. Congress passed HR 1726, A bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the 65th Infantry Regiment.  The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award the people of the U.S. can bestow for achievements that impact American history and culture:  HR 1726 Bill to Award the Congressional Gold Medal to the 65th Infantry

In March 2014, the Department of Defense identified 24 Veterans from 3 wars, that after stringent review were to be awarded the Medal of Honor:  24 Soldiers from 3 wars decorated with the Medal of Honor.    Among these were the first of the “Borinqueneers” to be awarded the nation’s highest decoration for Valor a soldier can receive was Master Sergeant Juan E. Negron, 65th Infantry Regiment of Puerto Rico.    

Medal of Honor award to Master Sergeant Juan E.  Negron Display - Rockland County, New York photo:  Guerrafilms, Ltd.  65th Infantry Honor Task Force

Medal of Honor award to Master Sergeant Juan E. Negron Display – Rockland County, New York
photo: Guerrafilms, Ltd. 65th Infantry Honor Task Force

His citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Sergeant Juan E. Negron distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a member of Company L, 65th Infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Kalma-Eri, Korea on April 28, 1951. That afternoon, Sergeant Negron took up the most vulnerable position on his company’s exposed right flank after an enemy force had overrun a section of the line. When notified that elements of his company were withdrawing, Sergeant Negron refused to leave his exposed position, instead delivering withering fire at hostile troops who had broken through a road block. When the hostile troops approached his position, Sergeant Negron accurately hurled hand grenades at short range, halting their attack. Sergeant Negron held the position throughout the night while friendly forces organized and launched a counterattack. The next morning, after the enemy had been repulsed, friendly forces relieved Sergeant Negron and found the bodies of fifteen enemy soldiers surrounding his position. Sergeant Negron’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.

March 24th, 2014, the 65th Infantry Honor Task Force hosted the first such reception in Rockland County at the Comfort Inn, Nanuet.  Over 100 Rockland County residents, veterans and elected officials participated to render a hand-salute to the Medal display in honor of the award made posthumously. One of the team of organizers for this Medal of Honor reception was Rockland resident Al Amorós and his wife Evette.  As it turned out, he discovered from one of  his relatives, Carmen Amorós, who heard about what he was involved in, that his uncle  was assigned to the 65th Infantry Regiment of Puerto Rico.  Rockland Host Medal of Honor Reception

Al Amorós said: “I was shocked and proud, when I was told my Uncle Joaquin Amorós Santiago was a World War 2 veteran who served in the 65th Infantry Regiment.”  Joaquin Amorós Santiago’s  unit saw action in Italy, France and then occupied Germany.  The 65th Infantry Regiment was assigned to the security detail guarding the NAZI war criminals held at Nuremberg, Germany.  Joaquin Amorós Santiago served honorably until his discharged in November, 1945.

Joaquin Amorós Santiago - WW2 Veteran - 65th Infantry Regiment

Joaquin Amorós Santiago – WW2 Veteran – 65th Infantry Regiment  photo credit: Amorós family archive

The Regiments record of distinguished service reached an apex on February 2, 1951, when they encountered the Chinese 109th Division with troops strengths nearing 10,000 against a combined battalion of 1,000 65th Infantry.  The fighting was brutal in the cold and snow.  An order was given to fix bayonets.  The Regiment conducted what became the last battalion-sized bayonet charge in U.S. military history.  The fierce fighting went hand-to-hand.  The enemy withdrew.

Rockland County can now add the 65th Infantry Regiment of Puerto Rico to its’ stellar lineage of military contributions among those who continue to serve and those service members that gave the ultimate sacrifice. If any should ask what is the connection between the 65th Infantry Regiment and Rockland County, you can reply with the word; “blood”.  If anyone had asked their commander for his assessment, he said:

General MacArthur praised the gallantry of the 65th Infantry Regiment

General MacArthur praised the gallantry of the 65th Infantry Regiment

 

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