Smithsonian Collects Congressional Gold Medal
The Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian award, was presented last week to the U.S. Army’s 65th Infantry Regiment in recognition of its pioneering military service, devotion to duty and many acts of valor in the face of adversity at a ceremony on Capitol Hill. The 65th Infantry Regiment was the first segregated Hispanic military unit and the first unit of the Korean War to receive such distinction.
Nicknamed “The Borinqueneers” from the original Taíno name of the island (Borinquen), it was a segregated Puerto Rican regiment of the U.S. Army. The 65th Infantry Regiment, created when Puerto Rico became a U.S. Territory in 1898 after the Spanish American War, participated in World War I, World War II and the Korean War. During its long, rich tradition of military history, service and achievements, since the first shots of World War I, which originated from “El Morro” San Juan, Puerto Rico, to the end of the Korean War, more than 100,000 Borinqueneers have distinguished themselves as true American war heroes. The motto of the Borinqueneers is “Honor Et Fidelitas,” which is Latin for “Honor and Fidelity.”
Per legislation, the medal was received by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History for long-term preservation and to be available for display and research.
“The museum is honored to take possession of this Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of the 65th Infantry Regiment and to preserve it for the American people,” said John Gray, director of the museum.
The medal will travel to Puerto Rico later this month where it will be presented ceremoniously to the regiment by Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs Robert A. McDonald.
During the Korean War, the Borinqueneers faced discrimination while serving in the U.S. military, where they had to use separate facilities and risked punishment if caught speaking Spanish. The soldiers earned numerous awards for their notable service, including one Medal of Honor, nine Distinguished Service Crosses, approximately 250 silver stars and more than 2,700 Purple Hearts. The 65th Infantry Regiment was the last segregated regiment in combat and their sacrifices led to the complete integration of the U.S. military.
The Congressional Gold Medal has been awarded by the U.S. Congress throughout American history to recipients who have contributed significantly to American society. Recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal must be supported by two-thirds of the House of Representatives, 67 members of the Senate and must pass specific standards when being considered. Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.) and Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi (D-P.R.) sponsored the bill in the U.S. House and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) led the effort in the U.S. Senate. The legislation received strong support from several national organizations. Upon passage, one gold medal was designed and struck to honor the Borinqueneers.
Several Smithsonian museums preserve Congressional Gold Medals. The National Air and Space Museum holds the medals awarded to the Tuskegee Airmen and the Women Airforce Service Pilots. The soon-to-open National Museum of African American History and Culture holds the Montfort Point Marines medal, awarded to the African American Marines who served during World War II. The Congressional Gold medal awarded to the “Monuments Men” went to the Archives of American Art. The medal presented to the Native American Code Talkers is preserved at the National Museum of the American Indian. The National Museum of American History collected the Nisei Japanese American soldier medal in 2011. The Borinqueneer medal will join these distinguished Congressional Gold Medals in the Smithsonian’s collection.
Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. The museum helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. The museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For more information, visit https://americanhistory.si.edu.
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