By Elizabeth Román

It’s been more than a year in the making, but the House of Representatives and the Senate have passed bills that will grant the 65th Infantry Regiment “Borinqueneers,” the Congressional Gold Medal.

Gumersindo Gomez, executive director of the Bilingual Veterans Outreach Centers Of Massachusetts, Inc., a veteran and long-time advocate for getting the recognition, said he is thrilled with the support of legislators across the country, especially in Massachusetts where all legislatures supported the bill.

“This is an honor that is duly deserved. These men went through incredible hardships with no recognition or appreciation of their efforts,” Gomez said.

Much like their fellow soldiers of color, 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 War I and World War II as well as in Korea. The infantry regiment was disbanded in 1959.

Currently, the Borinqueneers is the only segregated military infantry unit to have not been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

The Borinqueneers Congressional Gold Medal Alliance headed by Frank Medina, has spent more than a year raising awareness about the soldiers and their contributions to American history.

Medina, of Orlando, Fla., is a 2002 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and grandson of a Borinqueneer. He took it upon himself to contact veteran’s service agencies across the country to locate living Borinqueneers. There are about 300 left, living across the country and primarily in Puerto Rico.

In Western Massachusetts Arcadio Torres was one of the only living members of the infantry. A few months before he died Torres shared his story with The Republican last year.

He spoke of the hunger, the cold and the death that constantly surrounded them.

Among other reasons the Borinqueneers are recognized for participating in the last recorded bayonet assault against Korean enemies.

“These Puerto Rican soldiers were fighting a war in the dead of winter in uniforms normally used in tropical weather. Many suffered frostbite, a lot of them were hungry,” Gomez said. He said there is at least one more living Borinqueneer in the area.

Recognition efforts for the Borinqueneers date back to 1994 when Gomez received an email from a librarian in Maryland, Ernest Acosta, who inquired about recognizing the 65th Infantry. Together, they worked the next six years to get the unit’s veterans some recognition.

In the late 1990s Gomez and six other area veterans joined 300 Puerto Rican veterans and their families at a commemoration ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery where a plaque honoring the regiment was unveiled and a tree planted in honor of the Borinqueneers.

The regiment was also honored in Puerto Rico where a seiba tree was planted at El Morro, a 16th-century Spanish fort in San Juan which was built to protect the harbor from invasion.

Now all that is left is for President Barack Obama to sign the legislation and living members of the infantry and their families will head to Washington.

“Along with honoring the Borinqueneer veterans, the Congressional Gold Medal will be the highest award ever for all Latino veterans. This distinction will catapult Hispanic veterans into the national spotlight and aim to honor Hispanic veterans past, present and future,” Medina said in a prepared statement. “Today is one step closer to weave the contributions of the Borinqueneers, Puerto Rico and all Latinos in the fabric of American culture.”