Borinqueneer memorial to grace Greenway
The two old soldiers came slowly along the sidewalks leading onto the Greenway in Southside Bethlehem. The assembled crowd broke into applause.
The veterans, both being assisted by younger men and women, were helped into their seats of honor temporarily set on the grassy intersection of the Greenway and Webster Street.
The two war veterans were being honored April 13 at the site of a planned memorial commemorating the men of the 65th Regiment Infantry Regiment, a storied fighting unit of the U. S. Army.
The 65th was, after service during the Korean War, also known as the Borinqueneers, a unit whose members were mostly Puerto Rican.
Enrique Rosario, 93, fought with the 65th in Korea during the Korean War. Rosario’s cap proclaimed his status as a Korean War veteran; it was also emblazoned with a “Vietnam Veteran” patch. He also earned a Purple Heart, an award for wounds sustained in combat.
Santiago Pagan, 94, is a World War II veteran. He served in the Panama Canal Zone during World War II. Later he served in Korea after North Korea invaded South Korea.
Coincidentally, he lives in the high-rise building overlooking the site for the future memorial.
Bethlehem City Councilwoman Olga Negrón had the idea for a memorial commemorating the Borinqueneers.
Negrón officiated at the groundbreaking ceremony for the proposed memorial, which will use a domino playing table as a motif, a nod to the popularity of playing dominos among Puerto Ricans.
“If you are Puerto Rican, you have heard us use the phrase, ‘Venga lo que venga!’ or ‘Whatever it takes!’ said Negrón. She was talking about the battle cry response of the 65th Infantry Regiment, when leaders shouted, “Borinqueneers!”
Some in the crowd of about 100 took up the chant. “Venga lo que venga! Venga lo que venga!”
She was joined by friends, residents and public, plus officials from Bethlehem’s city government and from the state legislature.
Lehigh University professor and Director of the South Side Initiative Mary Foltz, summed up Negron’s impact on the project.
“Councilwoman Olga Negrón is the leader of this project,” said Foltz. “She worked tirelessly to ensure that the Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to the 65th Infantry Regiment [in 2016] and then she worked with community members to envision a memorial for Bethlehem. Olga Negrón is an inspirational and transformational leader.”
On June 10, 2014, Congress awarded the 65th Infantry the Congressional Gold Medal.
The Congressional Gold Medal (not to be confused with the Congressional Medal of Honor) commemorated the valor of the 65th Infantry Regiment.
Foltz also cited Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem Director Yadira Colon-Lopez for helping find funding for the memorial.
Robert Perez’s father served with the Borinqueneers. Perez was invited to the microphone, where he quoted Brigadier General William W. Harris’s book about the 65th Infantry Regiment. “This is a story of pride and prejudice.
“The Puerto Ricans are proud of their heritage, and on top of that, the soldiers of the 65th Infantry are very proud of their Regiment . . .”
Harris was the commanding officer of the 65th Infantry Regiment during the Korean War.
His reference to prejudice was a nod to the racism that the men of the regiment faced – the same prejudices that were common at that time in the Army and in the United States. The 65th Infantry Regiment was a segregated unit.
The 65th Infantry Regiment participated in World War I, World War II and the Korean War.