José Rivera Sr. did not live to see his 65th Infantry Regiment receive a Congressional Gold Medal of Honor for its service in the Korean War.
Surviving members of the "Borinqueneers," as the unit was known, were on hand June 10 when President Barack Obama signed the bill bestowing the honor on the soldiers, stated information at www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/06/10.
Rivera’s son, José, said that he is not sure how his father, who died in 2012, would have felt about the Gold Medal.
"He was very matter-of-fact about the war," Rivera said in an e-mail. "He enjoyed the military life (and) never was concerned with being recognized. … He always said the army provided him with food, shelter, a good pension. ‘I almost died a few times,’ he said, ‘but I didn’t.’ Then he would laugh."
Rivera spoke of his Korean War experience in a November 2007 article in El Mensajero Católico. Considered professional soldiers, the Borinqueneers held the respect of such American leaders as Gen. Douglas MacArthur, according to a documentary of the same name, so the regiment’s service helped facilitate the desegregation of the units that began during that war.
A historical account by Col. Gilberto Villahermosa tells how the men of the 65th Infantry Regiment killed nearly 6,900 Communist soldiers and imprisoned 2,127 more between the fall of 1950 and July of 1951. During that early period, the regiment won five of the 12 Distinguished Service Crosses and most of the 156 Bronze Stars and 421 Silver Stars that it would win in its four years in Korea. The regiment, which left Korea in November 1954, suffered 985 battle casualties.