VA Caribbean Healthcare System
Borinqueneers Receive Congressional Gold Medal
San Juan, Puerto Rico -- Do they remember the war they fought? The comrades they lost? The honor they felt to serve and the sacrifices they took as young men?
"In World War I, they defended the homeland and patrolled the Panama Canal Zone. In World War II, they fought in Europe, and in Korea, they fought in mud and snow. They are the 65th Infantry Regiment, U.S. Army," said President Barack Obama at an official ceremony on June 10, 2014, when presenting the Congressional Gold Medal (CGM) to the Borinqueneers.
On that day, dozens of Borinqueneers combat Veterans, made their way to Washington D.C to receive the CGM in honor of the 65th Infantry Regiment.
A total of 61,000 Puerto Ricans served in the military during the Korean War. Most of these Soldiers today are no longer living, and not all the living, attended the ceremony to receive the CGM from the President.
In receiving one of the nation's highest honors, they were known as a U.S. Army segregated unit composed mainly of Soldiers from the island of Puerto Rico who served in World War I, World War II and Korea.
During the Korean War, the Borinqueneers were first-line combat troops, as part of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division.
They were known for their pioneering military service, devotion to duty, and many acts of valor in the face of adversity,
But two living, very elderly Borinqueneers, receive the Congressional Gold Medal on June 21, 2018 from Associate Director Jaime Marrero at the VA Caribbean Healthcare System in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
65 years later, Sergeant First Class Domingo Emanuelli-Ortiz finally is recognized for his acts of valor and devotion to duty
“I’m 87, and after all these years I still feel good,” clearly and soft spoken said Emanuelli. “I still think about the people that passed away there. It was so regimental that we could not help them because we were in the middle of a battle.”
“Every time you think about your family and think about all the people you knew from that time; something remains in your heart,” he sighed with sadness. “We had to go, but I’m happy I served and I’m happy I made it back. I try to forget the loss of my friends and just try to keep it locked away deep within my memory.”
After the war, Emanuelli completed a total of 30 years of service in the military. With lingering emotional wounds of combat, he revealed how he still goes to church to ask God to forgive him for those he could not save in Korea. He said there were 20 under his platoon, and that most of those Borinqueneer Soldiers perished in battle.
Borinqueneer Private First-Class Jesus Ayala-Morales, U.S. Army, was not only a recipient of the CGM, but was also awarded for actions during the Korean War. He was held as a Prisoner of War (POW) after he was captured on 17 August 1951.
He was held until his release on August 16, 1953, after the signing of the Armistice: an agreement between Korea and the U.S. to ceasefire during the war.
At the hospital bed, Ayala was silently lying down and surrounded by family members when suddenly, he opened his eyes to receive the CGM. He managed to muster enough energy to point one finger to demonstrate his gratification for the medal they were giving him.
His frail movement was obvious, but his spirit pierced through his deep blue eyes; emulating his honor of service and sacrifice of a POW.
These Soldiers still recollect the memory of war. Remember their fallen comrades and express their thoughts of feeling helpless amongst battle.
But the truth is, they will forever be the heroes who put their lives in arms way, so that future generations could be born into a freedom of an independent nation.