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Congressional Gold Medal presented to the 65th Infantry Regiment, Borinqueneers, April 13, 2016

In both world wars, many Puerto Ricans served in the Army’s 65th Infantry Regiment, a segregated unit known as the “Borinqueneers,” from the Taíno Indian name for Puerto Rico [Borinquen]. In 2016 Congress awarded the regiment the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor Congress can bestow.

Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

Congressional Gold Medal presented to the 65th Infantry Regiment

Serving the Nation: Puerto Ricans

Puerto Ricans served with distinction in both world wars. About a month before the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones-Shafroth Act, which granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship. Two months later Congress enacted the Selective Service Act of 1917, eventually making all Puerto Rican men between the ages of 18 and 45 eligible for the draft. In total, approximately 20,000 Puerto Ricans served in World War I and 65,000 served in World War II.

We are conferring on them what they ought to have had years ago . . . the privilege of being American citizens and being placed under the protection of our flag.

Representative Horace M. Towner of Iowa, Speech to the U.S. House of Representatives, February 24, 1917