Anibal Albertorio, 84, didn’t expect to be recognized for his service to the U.S. Army as part of the 65th Infantry Regiment, a segregated unit comprised of Puerto Rican soldiers who fought in World War I through the Korean War.
Nearly 60 years later, Albertorio and other members of his regiment are being honored for their service, in spite of discrimination against minority service members at the time. The regiment, known as the “Borinqueneers,” was honored with the Congressional Gold Medal during a recent Hispanic Heritage Awards gala in Washingtion, D.C. The ceremony will be broadcast Monday night on PBS.
“I didn’t expect it after so much time, but thanks to God, they went back and looked at our accomplishments and realized that they were worth recognition,” Albertorio said, who fought with the regiment in 1950 and 1951, said in a telephone interview from Orlando, Florida, where he lives. “I’m proud, humbled and thankful.”
President Barack Obama authorized the Congressional Gold Medal for the regiment in June, giving the group of living veterans one of the nation’s highest civilian honors.
“Segregation set them apart from their fellow soldiers, but their courage made them legendary,” Obama said during the ceremony.
The regiment called themselves the Boriqueneers, a nickname derived from the word “Borinquen,” the indigineous name for the island.
After serving support roles during World War I, unit members found themselves fighting “body to body” during the Korean War. Close to 3,000 Borinqueneers earned Purple Hearts during this war; an estimated 750 were killed in combat and more that 120 are still missing in action, according to data collected by the Borinqueneers Congressional Gold Medal Alliance.
The regiment joins only one other Hispanic, baseball star and humanitarian Roberto Clemente, to receive this honor.
The medal is still in the design phase and living members of the regiment are being asked to submit design suggestions. Albertorio said he hopes it includes, “an American flag, a Puerto Rican flag, maybe a small map of Puerto Rico.”