My father Martin Laboy-Santiago was one of nine children born to my grandparents Valerio Laboy and Candida Santiago. In the Puerto Rican and other Hispanic cultures, it was customary that both parents’ names are used and recognized.
My father was born in
Salinas Puerto Rico on January 1, 1930. Born into extreme impoverish
conditions, he managed to make it through the tenth grade before having to find
work to help the family. He ended up working as a milker. A milker
is a person whose job was to go around and manually milks cows for milk. This
appears easily in description, but certainly is not as easy as it sounds.
Nonetheless and honest days’ work.
He watched his brothers get drafted into the military and he did not want to be left alone in the impoverish conditions, so he courted, and later married my mother Ada Morales - Camera and sought to voluntarily join the army.
As a Puerto Rican American, in those days the racial divide was extreme, so upon joining he was assigned to the Army's 65th Infantry Regiment, F Company. The 65th was the all Hispanic (Puerto Rican) unit and was one of two minority army military divisions during these times. The other being the all black 24th Infantry Regiment. The very public and prevalent racism was thick, and the language barrier didn't make things any easier for my dad or the thousands of others who spoke little to no English. Imagine if you can, being in middle of an all-out war. The stress of war alone is beyond imagination and one that no one who has never experienced being amid a real war, could ever understand. Now add the hostility of racism, dysfunctional equipment, and weather inappropriate clothing. The conditions according to my dad were intolerable. However, his commitment (and all the other men in his unit) did not waiver in any way. My father was proud to be an American and even prouder to fight in the interest of his country.
Some of the history of 65th Army Infantry Regiment is captured in a book titled, “Puerto Rico’s Fighting 65th U.S. Infantry…From San Juan to Chorwan” written by the Army Brigadier General W.W. Harris. A self-proclaimed racist, General Harris was the leader of the 65th during the Korean War. He was brave enough to admit his faults, but even braver for correcting them and forever stamping his legacy as a great leader. He was proud enough and saw it important enough to memorialize the bravery, commitment and honor of the Borinqueneers in his book.
Another book titled, “Honor and Fidelity…The 65th Infantry in Korea, 1950-1953” written by Gilberto N. Villahermosa (Colonel), also provides record of this esteemed Army unit. The unit only had about half of the number of men in the Regiment. A typical Regiment size normally consist of about 3k men. According to my dad’s accounts he says, “If you said 800, I would say that was wrong, it was more like 500 to 600 men”.
As the story goes, it was during the Korean War were the Borinqueneers exhibited their bravery and worth, when one of the U.S. Marine divisions was surrounded and under violent attack by the “Enemy” (as my dad would always say). They were being annihilated and they did not want to send anymore soldiers for fear of losing them also. The “Rum and Coca Cola” unit (the derogatory nickname given to the 65th), undermanned and under equipped, proudly volunteered to go with the expectation they would likely be annihilated as well.
The Fighting 65th Regiment F Company saved the Marine Corp unit and themselves. My father remembered and spoke more about the bravery of his comrades while downplaying his own. He would always tell stories of his friends who jumped into direct enemy fire to save other soldiers. “The Marines were getting obliviated! Bombs and rapid gun fire from all angles, I was sure I was going to die! The Koreans had children baring rifles with bayonets attached at the tip. It was them or us! ... ME!” he would say, and then burst into tears remembering what happened and what needed to be done. “I remember running into fire and grabbing my fellow soldiers out of harms way and then suddenly I felt a massive sting in my right leg. It appeared I was hit in my knee. All I kept thinking about was, I made a commitment to serve and protect against all odds, and myself and my brothers kept fighting. We did so while wearing short sleeve shirts and shorts in almost subzero-degree weather.” He would point at his toes and say “see! Frost bite, I feel nothing in this toe”
I learned to realize my father and many other Soldiers like him in the 65th Regiment F Company, were real hero’s. I made it my mission to restore my father’s accomplishments and heroics while serving to protect a country that did not protect or respect him, nor his Puerto Rican brothers in the 65th. I did not know about the Borinqueneers organization lead by Noemi Figueroa Soulet nor did I know about the 65th Infantry Regiment MA. I only knew I had to write my congressman and other political leaders to pursue my dad legacy. I later learned about these greatly committed groups, who have made it their life work to recognize and honor men like my father. It was with their help that today my father is being honored.
Recently, because of organizations and people like Hector Diaz, Noemi Figueroa, Congress has finally recognized the bravery of my dad and his unit and saw it necessary to establish the “Borinqueneers Congressional Gold Medal” for their commitment and service during the Korean War. The First Medal of its kind given to any unit in the Korean War.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the Highest Award Bestowed by the United States Congress, this award is given to those individuals or groups that has had an impact on American History such as the first Puerto Rican to receive the Congressional Gold Medal Roberto Clemente for his Humanitarian work. The US Air Force African american Pilots the Tuskegee Airmen, the U.S. Marine Corp African American Montford Point Marines, the Native American Indians Navajo code Talkers, Filipino Veteran Americans of WWII and also now the 65th Infantry Regiment
IN MEMORIUM OF OUR FALLEN HERO AND CONGRESSIONAL GOLD MEDAL RECIPIENT
Borinqueneer General Richard E. Cavazos was called to serve with the Lord
He was the first Hispanic US Army Four Star General and soldier with the 65th Infantry Regiment, he passed away on Sunday Oct 29, 2017
He retired from the Army in 1984 after leading a brigade, a division, an Army corps and at one point commanding all soldiers in the continental U.S.
The man who was raised by a cowhand on King Ranch in Texas and eventually became the United States Army's first Hispanic four-star general has died.
Richard Edward Cavazos, 88, died Sunday. He was living in the Army Residence Community in San Antonio. He is survived by his wife, Caroline, said Bill Fee, who served under Cavazos during the Vietnam War in 1967.
"The infantry men he led in Vietnam have been close to him ever since we got back from Vietnam, Fee said. "He's been a tremendous supporter of us ever since we got back. He's a remarkable gentleman."
The general also was the first Hispanic to attain the rank of brigadier general, according to biography.com. Cavazos spent most of his childhood on King Ranch with his father, a World World I veteran and foreman of the ranch's Santa Gertrudis division, the San Antonio Express-News reported in 2016.
Cavazos' mother and father, Lauro and Thomasas Quintanilla Cavazos put all five of their children through college.
In the Army, Cavazos was sent to Korea as a lieutenant with the 65th Infantry Regiment during the Korean War, according to biography.com. He was then sent to Vietnam where he was Lt. Colonel and led a battalion of soldiers into battle, said Fee, who was one of his solders in the Delta Company 1st battalion 18th regiment 1st infantry division.
"He was an atypical army officer in Vietnam. Most battallion commanders stood in the rear or in a helicopter above to direct the battle," Fee said. "The general had nothing to do with that. He fought on the ground with his troops during the battle of Loc Ninh. He was on the ground with us as we were facing the north Vietnamese Army."
About 50 years after Cavazos led his men into the battle of Loc Ninh, he died in the memory care unit he was living in, said Fee, who was a corporal during the Vietnam War.
Because of Cavazos' bravery in the many battles he fought in Korea and Vietnam, he was awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses, a Silver Star, two Legion of Merit awards, five Bronze Stars for Valor, and a Purple Heart, a Combat Infantry Badge, and a Parachutist Badge.
He retired from the Army in 1984 after leading a brigade, a division, an Army corps and at one point commanding all soldiers in the continental U.S., the San Antonio Express-News reported.
"He has achieved many honors... yet throughout it all he cherished the men who served under him and that's what set him apart," Fee said.
Fee said Cavazos' family is arranging funeral services, which will be announced at a later date.
"We were all 19 and 20 years old, he was 38 at the time (of the Vietnam War)," Fee said. "He was a father figure to us. We looked up to him and we respected him."
IN MEMORIUM OF OUR FALLEN HERO
Borinqueneer SSGT Ismael Diaz Melendez (Retired)
WWII & Korea War Veteran
Served in Company B 65th Infantry Regiment in WWII
SSGT Diaz retired after 27 years of service in the U.S. Army
SSGT Diaz is among a handful of brothers that served together in Korea with the 65th, his brother Dion Diaz Melendez was in Company B in Korea and his brother Domingo Diaz Melendez was in Co. E in Korea and Efrain Diaz Melendez was in Co. F in Korea