Maryland’s last surviving member of a segregated Latino-American Army unit will finally be receiving a Congressional Gold Medal for his service in the Korean War. Leonardo Martinez, 96, of Odenton served in the 65th Infantry Regiment, nicknamed the Borinqueneers, a unit made up mostly of Puerto Ricans but included soldiers of other Latino backgrounds.
The Borinqueneers distinguished themselves fighting on behalf of their country, even as they faced discrimination “on a daily basis” (and would continue to face upon their return home). In 1951, they led what is believed to be the last “battalion-sized bayonet assault in U.S. Army history.”
General Douglas MacArthur praised the Borinqueneers for “their courage, determination and resolute will to victory, their invincible loyalty to the United States and their fervent devotion to those immutable principles of human relations which the Americans of the Continent and of Puerto Rico have in common.”
The push to award members of the 65th the Congressional Gold Medal, which recognizes persons “who have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture,” began years ago. Sen. Barbara Mikulski was a co-sponsor of the resolution awarding the medal. At Fort McHenry on Monday she presented Martinez with an American flag flown over Rhe Capitol and a signed copy of the Congressional resolution awarding the medal.
Martinez said nothing during the event, but his son, Angel Martinez, spoke of his father as someone who fights “like a tiger” and whose name, Leonardo, couldn’t be more apt. “Like a lion, he can bite and snarl but it’s always in the spirit of getting something done,” he said.
After the resolution receives President Obama’s signature. The United States Mint will get to work designing the Gold Medals, which are given images that uniquely celebrate the achievements of the recipients.
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