Puerto Rico – Shed Blood for America

 In History, Military

Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria. Floods, Mudslides, communication lines down, death and destruction on a massive scale. Amid questions and complaints that the government is not doing enough for the beleaguered nation, we thought we’d share with you a reminder of the blood that this tiny island has shed for the United States.

Puerto Ricans have fought alongside Americans since the Revolutionary War. General Bernardo de Galvez led his troop of Puerto Rican and Hispanic soldiers to capture Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Mobile, Alabama; Pensacola, Florida; and St. Louis, Missouri, from the British.

In 1898, Spain ceded the Island to the United States in the Treaty of Paris.  By 1917,  residents were granted US citizenship by birth. The National Guard formed on the island and the “Porto Rico” regiment was born.

2nd class citizens

When WWI began, 236,000 Puerto Ricans signed up for the draft, with about 20,000 actually serving. If a man wanted to be in combat, he had to leave the island and enlist in New York.

The first shot of WWI was by a Puerto Rican Army Lieutenant, Teofilo Marxuach, who was stationed at the port of San Juan. He saw a German supply ship, the Odenwald, attempt to force its way out of San Juan bay and opened fire. His actions caused the ship to return to the port and its officers were interned.

But all was not rosy for Puerto Ricans serving in the United States Military. The units were segregated, just like the black units. They were literally “expendable.” Prejudice abounded, but the Puerto Ricans fought hard.

WWII

According to the Defense Department:

“Puerto Ricans played key roles during the war. Navy Adm. Horacio Rivero became the first person of Hispanic descent to achieve the rank of admiral. Ships under his command provided artillery cover for the Marines landing on Guadalcanal, the Marshall Islands and Okinawa. Lt. Gen. Pedro del Valle, the first Hispanic U.S. Marine Corps general, played a key role in the Guadalcanal campaign and the Battle of Guam and became the commanding general of the First Marine Division.”

Korea and Beyond

By the Korean War, Puerto Ricans distinguished themselves in the 65th Infantry Division, the “Borinqueneers,”(combination of Borinquen, the Taino name for Puerto Rico and the word buccaneer). They won many awards in fought battles against the Chinese. They were also instrumental in assisting the Marines at Chosin Reservoir to evacuate. When the Marines were surrounded near the Manchurian border, the Puerto Ricans “rushed to their defense.”

But the 65th regiment were still considered unworthy. When command told them they could no longer eat rice and beans, they refused. They were forced to wear labels that read “I am a coward.”  In December of 1954, 162 Puerto Ricans of the 65th Infantry Regiment were arrested, 95 were court-martialed, and 91 were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms.

Fortunately, Army Secretary Robert Stevens remitted the sentences and granted clemency and pardons to all involved.

Army Pfc. Pedro Morales said that his men fought for 7 days at Jackson Heights.  His officers, team leaders and half of his team were dead. With no support for anyone, they were demoralized and didn’t want to fight any more.

“They arrested me, sent me to California and put me in jail for six months. They divided us into groups and sentenced us. We had been waiting on backup, and the support just never came. That’s why we didn’t want to fight. It was like signing a death sentence.” Pedro Morales

Eventually, his unit was cleared, and received an honorable discharge. They also received a Congressional Gold Medal in April of 2016.

 “I’m so proud to have served my country. I would go back in the service and serve again and do it proudly.” Pedro Morales

And that is the issue. Puerto Ricans are American citizens and should be treated with respect. Sure, they are not a state, but they have shed their blood for our nation just like everyone else.

Puerto Rico says that there are 10,000 of its citizens serving in the US Military. That number may be excessively low and only include those actually from the island itself. Many Puerto Ricans live in the United States.

After Hurricane Maria, there may be many more who come to the mainland simply because there is nothing left for them.  The Hospital Ship USS Comfort is finally on its way to help the victims. Though Chief of Staff Joseph Dunford stated that the military would do what it takes to help them, all military members from the bottom up and top down should remember the sacrifices and trials of the Puerto Rican people.

 

Featured photo- some of the members of the 65th Regiment- Latino and Puerto Rican affairs commission

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