Posey honors 3 Brevard residents who served in all-Puerto Rican Army unit
Retired Sgt. 1st Class William Vila-Velez of Palm Bay addresses the audience after being presented a Congressional Gold Medal replica for his service with the 65th Infantry Regiment, known as "The Borinqueneers." At left is Congressman Bill Posey, who presented Vila-Velez with the medal in Viera.
Moments after receiving a Congressional Gold Medal replica for his service in the U.S. Army’s all-Puerto Rican 65th Infantry Regiment, retired Sgt. 1st Class William Vila-Velez of Palm Bay dedicated the medal to the memory of his platoon sergeant, who was shot and killed in combat during the Korean War.
“His name was Sgt. Fonseca. He trained us day and night,” said Vila-Velez, one of three Brevard County residents who served with the unit nicknamed “The Borinqueneers” and honored July 28 in Viera with the highest civilian award given by Congress. “He never saw what he did for us. The whole platoon that day cried like babies. We were babies and he was our father. And he went down like a hero. He made us men.”
U.S. Congressman Bill Posey (R-Rockledge) presented the medals to Vila-Velez, Pfc. 1st Class Juan Romero-Silva of Palm Bay and Chaplain James B. Allan of Indialantic in the Brevard County Commission chambers as family members, fellow veterans and well-wishers looked on.
The three men were part of the Army’s last segregated unit, which was created by Congress in 1898 and served in World War I and II and the Korean War. It was during fierce fighting in Korea that the regiment became known as “The Borinqueneers,” a salute to Puerto Rico’s pre-colonial name of Borinquen.
Rob Medina, director of community and military relations for Posey and ceremony organizer, said he hopes this event and those being held around the country will make people realize the significance of the Borinqueneers.
“The Borinqueneers are to the Armed Forces what Jackie Robinson was to Major League Baseball. They paved the way for all Latinos and Hispanic service members.”
In Korea, the regiment earned a Medal of Honor, nine Distinguished Service Crosses, about 250 Silver Stars, more than 600 Bronze Stars and more than 2,700 Purple Hearts, said Posey, who helped introduce legislation to honor the fighters. The unit also launched the last battalion-sized bayonet charge in Army history, Posey noted.
“Think about a bayonet charge,” Posey said. “That’s not at a distance. That’s up close and personal. One of you is not going to walk away.”
Romero-Silva, who served in World War II, Vila-Velez and Allan were among many Borinqueneers from around the nation who were unable to attend an April ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, where the official Borinqueneers Gold Medal was unveiled to the public.
Another gold medal ceremony is scheduled for October for Borinqueneers who have yet to receive medals, Medina said.
Allan, 100, who was assigned to the regiment for 14 months in Korea, said he was honored to provide spiritual comfort to Borinqueneers.
“It was one of the most spirit-filled experiences I've ever had,” Allan said.