Honor and Fidelity. That is the motto of the 65th Infantry Regiment, also known as the Borinqueneers, the only Puerto Rican unit in the United States Army.
Since the regiment’s creation in 1899, the men of the 65th have proudly served the US through multiple wars, despite facing racial discrimination. Their courage, loyalty, and patriotism earned them hundreds of accolades, including the Congressional Gold Medal in 2014.
But the honor and fidelity of the men of the 65th came into question in 1952, in the midst of the Korean War, when ninety-one Borinqueneers were arrested and tried for desertion and disobeying orders. How could this happen in one of the most distinguished and decorated units of the Army?
In this telling of one of the forgotten stories of the Korean War, author Talia Aikens-Nuñez guides us through the history of the Borinqueneers and the challenges they faced leading up to what was the largest court martial in the entire war. Rediscover the bravery of the men of the 65th through Aikens-Nuñez’s thorough writing and the soldiers’ firsthand accounts of the Korean War.
read an excerpt...
The US public was shocked to discover that during the war, 162 soldiers of the 65th Infantry Regiment had been court-martialed and ninety-one of those soldiers found guilty of disobeying orders and desertion.
The US military kept the courts-martial quiet. But the soldiers of the 65th sent letters to their families describing what was happening, which led to public outcry and confusion from the press. How could one of the most distinguished regiments of the Korean War, whose soldiers had only months before been praised by General Douglas MacArthur for their “brilliant record of heroism,” become involved in the largest mass court-martial of the Korean War?
Did the Borinqueneers lose their bravery and heroism in such a short time? Or were they victims of discrimination in a prejudiced and segregated system? Were they betrayed by the country they risked their lives for?
This is the story of one of the bravest and most decorated regiments in the history of the US military. It is a forgotten story in a forgotten war. But it is a story of patriotism, loyalty, and bravery in the face of danger and discrimination, and it is one that deserves to be told.
about Talia Aikens-Nunez...
Talia Aikens-Nuñez is passionate about sharing with young readers the little known stories, accomplishments, and contributions of people of color from all throughout history. Aikens-Nuñez is the author of Small Nap, Little Dream, a bilingual Spanish/English picture book. She and her husband live in Connecticut with their two children.
Interview with Talia Aikens-Nunez...
Does this book have a special meaning to you? i.e. where you
found the idea, its symbolism, its meaning, who you dedicated it to, what made
you want to write it?
Yes. About ten years ago, during a family gathering at my in-laws,
my husband’s grandfather told me that he served in the military during the
Korean War. He proudly explained that he served with the 65th
Infantry Regiment, the Borinqueneers. I felt ashamed because I had never heard
of this unit and, if I am being truly honest, I didn’t know how to spell
Borinqueneer. After he explained some of their history to me, I wanted to know
more about the only Latino segregated unit in United States Army history. Next,
I did what most people do today - I googled them. Sadly, there were not many books available on
them. What angered me the most was that I could not find one book appropriate
for my kids to read about them. So, I decided to write one. And, I dedicated
the book to the person who first told me their story, my husband’s grandfather.
Where do you get your storylines from?
It is a nonfiction book so it details the history of the 65th
Infantry Regiment. It starts from their inception in 1899 and brings the reader
to them being awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by former President Obama
and former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
Was this book easier or more difficult to write than others? Why?
This was more difficult to write because of the amount of
research that went into it. I had to research the unit itself, 65th
Infantry Regiment, the military structure, the history of Puerto Rico, and the
social and political landscape around the time the unit existed. This required
researching articles written about the unit from small publications (some of
which do not exist today) to larger more established publications like the New
York Times. I read military history books like Honor and Fidelity written by
military historian Col. Gilberto Villahermosa. I read memoirs of leaders in the
military like Puerto Rico’s Fighting 65th Infantry by their former
commander Retired Brigadier General W. W. Harris and The Korean War by the late
General Matthew Ridgeway, to name a couple. I reviewed pictures and stories of
the 65th Infantry Regiment catalogued in The Borinqueneers, A Visual
History of the 65th Infantry Regiment by Noemí Figueroa Soulet. I watched
numerous documentaries on the unit and the Korean War. But, most importantly, I
watched and read transcripts of interviews of dozens of former soldiers through
the Veterans History Project through the Library of Congress. Also, to get some
old military documents such as memos, I had to reach out to a researcher who
helped me locate documents through the National Archives and Records
Administration (NARA). Finally, to get an understanding of the brief
court-martial trials the men stood for, I needed to find those transcripts.
After a few roadblocks, I was able to locate them through the Center for Puerto
Rican Studies at Hunter College. The research for this project was extensive.
Do you only write one genre?
No, I have fiction picture books and chapter books too. I
started with picture books with Escucha Means Listen then progressed to writing
a chapter book series called OMG. Now, I have been really liking nonfiction.
Give us a picture of where you write, where you compose
these words…is it Starbucks, a den, a garden…we want to know your inner sanctum?
I typically write in my small office. It is a very small
space but has windows on three of the four walls. It is very bright, open and
airy. During warmer months, the windows are open and I can hear the birds,
neighborhood dogs and see all of the bees buzzing and butterflies floating by.
It is a wonderful space to work in. It is decorated with lots of yellow and
blue so it is a very cheery space.
And finally, of course…was there any specific event or circumstance
that made you want to be a writer?
It was the birth of my daughter that prompted me to start
writing. I try to write books that I think my kids and other people’s kids would