YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea -- Each year during Hispanic Heritage Month we are reminded of the countless sacrifices that Hispanic Americans have made to protect liberty and freedom here in the Republic of Korea.
One of the greatest examples of their commitment to the Land of the Morning Calm comes from the heroics of the 65th Infantry Regiment "Borinqueneers", a Puerto Rican National Guard unit that fought in nine of ten campaigns during the Korean War. Perhaps the biggest achievement by the 65th Inf. Reg. was their role during Operation Thunderbolt that helped pave the way for Eighth Army to recapture Seoul in 1951.
"(During Operation Thunderbolt) they were ordered to seize Hills 149 and 172 held by the Chinese 149th Division," explained Ron Miller, Eighth Army historian. "The assault began on Jan. 31 and by Feb. 2 after engaging…stubborn enemy resistance, the top of the hills were within reach. With reckless abandon, two battalions (with bayonets fixed to their rifles) charged the enemy positions at the top of the hills…and forced the enemy to vacate."
The success of Operation Thunderbolt was just the first of many highlights for the Borinqueneers and by the time the smoke cleared on the battlefields and the mountain tops of the Korean Peninsula members of the 65th Inf. Reg. had been awarded one Medal of Honor, ten Distinguished Service Crosses, and 256 Silver Stars.
"At one period during the war, members of the 65th Inf. Reg. received 12 Silver Stars and three Distinguished Service Crosses in a matter of just two days," marveled Miller. "To be able to accomplish that is just remarkable."
Before the Korean War began the unit was made up entirely of Puerto Rican National Guardsmen, but as the fighting wore on the unit was desegregated due to a lack of available personnel. To this day the Borinqueneers still hold the distinction of being the only all-Hispanic unit in U.S. Army history.
In addition to their heroics on the battlefield, the 65th Inf. Reg. is also well known for producing the first-ever Hispanic American promoted to four-star general, Gen. Richard E. Cavazos.
"The first four-star general in U.S. Army history was from the 65th (Inf. Reg.)," Miller explained. "During the war he was commander of Echo Company and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for showing extraordinary heroism in ground combat during an attack on Hill 142."
In commemoration of the heroics of the 65th Inf. Reg. and all Hispanic Americans who have given selflessly to both the Army and our nation, Eighth Army is scheduled to host local observances throughout the command.
Individuals looking to learn more about the 65th Inf. Reg. or other Hispanic American achievements in military history can contact their local Equal Opportunity advisor for more details on Hispanic Heritage Month activities that will be taking place in their respective communities.