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Massachusetts ceremony honors Army’s famed 65th Infantry Regiment 'Borinqueneers'

Springfield city councilor and executive director of the Bilingual Veterans Outreach Center, Gumersindo Gomez, salutes during the playing of taps with Korean War veteran Victor Rosario, left, and WWII veteran Antonio Morales. The two veterans were honored on national Borinqueneers Day.

DON TREEGER, THE REPUBLICAN/TNS

By ELIZABETH ROMÁN | masslive.com | Published: April 13, 2021

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — Harrowing memories of friends dying, hungry Korean children begging for food and brutal physical combat still haunt Victor M. Rosario 70 years after his service in the Korean War.

“I remember a tall man coming to me and saying stop feeding the enemy, we can’t help the enemy, but it was a child and he kept saying he was hungry,” recalled the now 97-year-old Rosario.

While he has moments in which he fades off and repeats the same phrases over and over, Rosario still vividly remembers his wartime service as a member of the Army’s renowned 65th Infantry Regiment knowns as “Los Borinqueneers.”

Like the Tuskegee Airmen and the Navajo Code Talkers, the Borinqueneers were members of a segregated infantry regiment, established in 1899, with members serving in World Wars I and II as well as in Korea. The regiment was disbanded in 1959. After many years of effort by Puerto Rican veterans, former President Barack Obama signed legislation in 2014 granting the regiment the Congressional Gold Medal.

On Tuesday, Rosario and fellow Borinqueneer and World War II veteran Antonio Morales were honored by the city for their service. Congress passed legislation on Jan. 3 that designated April 13 as National Borinqueneers Day.

Rosario and Morales are believed to be the only living Borinqueneers in Western Massachusetts and two of only several hundred still living around the world.

“I accept this honor on behalf of all of the men who didn’t come home,” said Morales, who at 97 clearly remembers his World War II service from 1940 to 1945.

For his service as a private first class, Morales received the American Defense Medal with Metal Clasp, the American Theater Service Medal, the European, African, Middle Eastern Theater Service Medal with 3 Bronze Stars, the Good Conduct Medal, 7 overseas Service Bars and the World War II Victory Medal.

“I went all over Europe. I remember being in Ajaccio, France where Napoléon Bonaparte was born and Italy. I was always thinking of my family and wanting to come home,” he said in Spanish. “I am just thankful to still be here today and appreciative of this recognition.”

His daughter Lourdes Morales attended the event with her father. She said her family is proud of him and his service. He and his wife had seven children, and he is now grandfather to 17 with 12 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.

“We are grateful that they are honoring his service so many years later. We have always been so proud of him,” she said.

Rosario was drafted into the Army when he was 22. He was member of the group of Borinqueneers who are credited with the final battalion-sized bayonet assault in Army history. In early 1951 while fighting in Korea, two battalions of the 65th, armed with fixed bayonets, charged straight up a hill toward the enemy, overrunning them and overtaking the enemy’s strategic position. Gen. Douglas MacArthur had high praise for the unit. Rosario was part of that mission, and, for his service, was awarded the Korean Service Medal and the Bronze Star.

“This was hand-to-hand combat that this man was involved with right here,” said Gumersindo Gomez, executive director of the Bilingual Veterans Outreach Center of Massachusetts, a Vietnam veteran and Ward 1 city councilor.

Gomez worked for decades trying to get the Borinqueneers recognized at the local, state and national levels. He called both the surviving Borinqueneers his personal heroes and thanked them for their service.

He went on to present each of them a citation, joined by Cesar Ruiz Jr., president of Golden Years Home Care, who helped organize the event. Mayor Domenic J. Sarno also issued citations to both veterans.

Rosario was joined by his wife of 67 years, Lydia M. Rosario, and several of their five children — Victor Rosario Jr., Hector Rosario, Margarita Canuel, Maria Acuña and Anna Santana.

“It has certainly been hard for him over the years. Some days are very good, other days the memories come back to him and it can be difficult,” Acuña said. She credits her mother and sister Anna for working with Rosario when he has difficult days.

“We are proud of him and thankful that the regiment is being recognized, but those experiences they carry them with them for the rest of their lives,” Santana said.

After receiving their recognitions the song “La Despedida” (The Farewell) played over the speaker, and both men stood up with hands to their hearts, cried and sang along with the lyrics which in part read: “I said goodbye to my love and asked God that she many never cry, that she will always remember my love for her, for I will never forget her. It only breaks my soul and condemns me, that I had to leave my mother so alone.”

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Korean War veteran Victor Rosario, one of two "Borinqueneers" honored in Springfield on national Borinqueneers Day, reads a plaque given to him.
DON TREEGER, THE REPUBLICAN/TNS