BELLEVIEW – Decorated Korean War veterans Miguel Martir Lopez and Raymond Herbert Medina were honored Saturday in a ceremony at Church on the Hill-Assemblies of God in Belleview.
Both veterans received a reproduction of a special Korean War 3rd Division crest, and memorabilia were presented by a 9/11 first responder.
“It means a lot to me. It has been a pleasure to serve (and) if I could serve this country again, even if I was 100, I would,” said Lopez, 93.
A lifetime of service:Marion, 97, flew a B-17 during WWII and now has the decoration of the French Legion of Honor
Inspired story:Her life and her Ocala coffee changed forever in March 2020, but not just because of COVID
Help veterans:Ocala VetNet Helps Marion County Veteran-Owned Businesses Thrive
Lopez, Medina, 94, and other Korean War veterans Florencio Edward “Eddie” Lorenzo, who passed away in 2019, were members of the US Army’s 65th Infantry Regiment, mostly Puerto Rican, nicknamed “The Borinqueneers” , an ancestral name for the natives of Puerto Rico. .
The regiment was a highly decorated unit that overcame discrimination and displayed fervent patriotism.
Victor Colon, 55, a 32-year-old army veteran from Puerto Rico who has served in all major conflicts since 1989, helped organize the ceremony on Saturday.
Colon is a member of the Borinqueneers Motorcycle Club, created in 2005 to honor members of the 65th Infantry Regiment.
The club is made up of law enforcement and first responders and provides ceremonial escorts.
(“Members of the 65th Infantry Regiment) endured hardship and racism and they paved the way for me,” Colon said.
Colon worked with a historical research team and had a reproduction of a “Returned from Hell-Korea 1950-1953” patch made for the two veterans.
The same patch was shared by soldiers returning from the Korean War in the early 1950s and is of great sentimental value to veterans.
Members of the Iron Pigs Motorcycle Club, also made up of law enforcement and first responders, attended the ceremony.
In 2018:North Korea hands over remains of U.S. Korean War soldiers, White House says
Unit has been treated improperly
A US Department of Defense article (defense.gov) indicates that in the 1950s, a commander ordered all soldiers of the 65th Infantry Regiment to shave their mustaches, a move considered humiliating by the troops. Morale suffered.
The units’ usual diet of rice and beans has been abolished, the article says.
The article details how during the Korean War circa 1952, some soldiers in the regiment refused to return to a position under intense Chinese mortar attacks, known as “Jackson Heights”, because with hard ground making the soldiers unable to dig, no artillery and no air support. It was considered a “suicide mission”.
Some soldiers faced court martial and were sentenced to prison terms, but the US Army’s Center for Military History highlighted factors such as lack of training, lack of ammunition, and rotation of soldiers. experienced who led to the trials, the article says.
The center said that “the command environment was guilty of ethnic and organizational biases,” according to the article.
The secretary of the army “acted quickly to hand over the sentences and granted leniency to all those involved,” and all veterans of the 65th Infantry Regiment received honorable discharges, the article said.
“You never gave up”
Jeffrey Askew, director of the Marion County Veterans Services office and overseer of the Ocala-Marion County Veterans Memorial Park, praised the service and sacrifice of veterans of the 65th Infantry Regiment.
“You are the real heroes. You never gave up,” Askew said.
Members of the 65th Infantry Division paved the way for serving minorities, he said.
Askew said students should know that these veterans and their history of service and sacrifice are “real people.”
Askew said there was a memorial plaque in the Veterans Park sponsored by the Borinqueneers Motorcycle Club that honors the 65th Infantry Regiment.
“We have to remember it”
Carolos Gonzalez, a native of Puerto Rico and a Vietnam War-era navy veteran, said he was moved when he heard about the 65th Infantry Regiment through the monument in the park.
“You have to remember that,” he said.
Saturday’s ceremony was launched after Facebook connections were made between parties involved in honoring members of the 65th Infantry Regiment, including Rose Lugo, Lopez’s daughter.
Guests honoring the two Korean War veterans included American Legion District 6 Commander Joseph Marcheggiani and District Sergeant-at-Arms Ralph Sanchez. Lt. Steve Osborne of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office thanked the veterans for their service.
Representatives of the American Senses Rick Scott and Marco Rubio and United States Representative Daniel Webster spoke of the courage and dedication of the two Korean War veterans.
The 65th Infantry Regiment received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2014.
The Congressional Record (congress.com) on the medal indicates that the Puerto Rican volunteers served shortly after the acquisition of Puerto Rico by the United States in 1898 and that they served in the canal area in 1917.
The unit was named the 65th Infantry Regiment in 1920 and “served as the last separate unit of the United States Army comprised primarily of Hispanic soldiers,” the file says.
The regiment served overseas during World War II, and the record shows that when the Korean War broke out in 1950, President Truman’s army desegregation policy was still ongoing and the units were separated. .
The Congressional Record indicates that in Korea, members of the regiment have received nine Distinguished Services Crosses, approximately 250 Silver Stars, more than 600 Bronze Stars and more than 2,700 Purple Heart Awards.
Master Sergeant Juan E. Negron was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2014 for his actions in Korea in 1951, the file shows.
Lopez, Medina and Lorenzo first received their congressional gold medals in a ceremony at the same church in 2016.
Church on the Hill assistant pastor Jaime Luis Fret, a Vietnamese-era veteran, was instrumental in securing the decorations by the three and hosted the ceremony on Saturday. His involvement with veterans of the 65th Infantry Regiment began after meeting Lopez on Memorial Day at church.
“I must make a strong remark for peace”
Fret explained that Medina was captured in December 1950, when the temperature was so cold it affected the weapons. Members of the 65th Infantry Regiment were outnumbered “100 to 1” by the Chinese soldiers.
Medina and other members of a reconnaissance patrol from the 65th Infantry Regiment were captured and taken to China.
Medina was held as a prisoner of war for 28 months. He also received a prisoner of war flag during the ceremony.
“I must make a strong remark for peace. All wars and all sacrifices are meaningless without peace,” Medina said.
Raymond H. Medina is listed with 4,447 other “Prisoners of war repatriated from the conflict from 5/7/50 to 10/6/54” in the National Archives.
Records also indicate that in 1984, 2,233 servicemen and 18 civilians were still missing.
Medina, a member of the West Central Florida section (of) former prisoners of war, was accompanied by her son, David Medina. 54.
“I was overwhelmed,” David Medina said of the ceremony.
Lopez was wounded in combat while defending a command post in 1952. He is the recipient of a Purple Heart, two Bronze Stars, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
He was accompanied by his caregiver, Manuela Pachero.
Lisandro Colon gave several souvenirs to the two Korean War veterans.
Colon, 58, responded to the Twin Towers for search and recovery operations as a member of the National Guard during 9/11. He deployed to Iraq with the army and received the combat infantry badge.
Guest Michael Richardson, 31, discovered the two Korean War veterans of the 65th Infantry Regiment through his work in the Veterans History Project with the University of Central Florida.
Richardson served in the US Navy from 2008-2012 and deployed to the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in Operation Enduring Freedom.
He was accompanied to the ceremony by his wife Laura.
Micheal Richardson praised veterans for helping restore peace and told the assembly he would like the next generation to be aware of the sacrifice of veterans.
“My daughter can play freely and you (Lopez and Medina) have made this street safe. (We have to) keep their heritage alive,” he said.