When it comes to surprises, Puerto Rican Veterans Monument Square Association President Tony Molina – of Jamaica Plain – always has something up his sleeve as it relates to improving the veterans memorial on Washington Street in the South End.
However, on Memorial Day this year, it was Mayor Martin Walsh and Molina that had a surprise for the Memorial Day crowd – an alleyway behind the memorial being dedicated to the vaunted and historic 65th Infantry Regiment predominately made up of Puerto Ricans.
“Today, we have one more surprise,” said Mayor Walsh. “This summer is going to be the 20th anniversary of the dedication of this monument square and today we are naming the alleyway behind it after the 65th Infantry Regiment. This is one more way to honor the men and women who gave their lives for the country. This designation isn’t because of me or any elected officials. It’s there because of one veteran who grew up in Puerto Rico and made Boston his home. I’d like to thank Tony Molina for his advocacy.”
The new designation is prompted by signs at either end of the alleyway, which is adjacent to the Blackstone School and behind the Puerto Rican Veterans Monument.
When announced, it took most of the crowd on hand by surprise, with some gasping at the announcement, and a healthy round of applause given after it was official. Signs had already been placed prior to the ceremony, but few noticed them until it was announced.
The 65th Infantry Regiment is nicknamed ‘The Borinqueneers’ based on the original native name for Puerto Rico, which is Borinquen. The regiment was formed by an Army appropriation bill in 1898, which authorized the creation of a body of native troops on the island. It became organized in 1901and incorporated into the regular U.S. Army. They were first activated in 1917 to serve in Panama. They also served in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the War on Terror.
It was one of the first units deployed at the outset of the Korean War, and in 2016 the Infantry was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
The announcement came during the regular Memorial Day Exercises at the Monument, a ceremony that has grown in popularity year after year and attracts numerous elected officials from across the City.
Sgt. Gumersindo Gomez, president of the Vietnam Veterans, took time to call for an end to the unequal treatment of Puerto Rican veterans living on the island. He said the continue to not get the same benefits that are given to those living in the states.
“I saw three of my friends go down and there’s not a day in my life I don’t forget those three Puerto Rican kids,” he said. “One went down on the day his wife was in labor with their child. These three gave their lives – they gave everything. Yet, still, it’s okay for us to die or get wounded in battle, but it’s not okay for us to vote for the Commander in Chief that sends us into battle. Nor do we have a senator or representative in Congress…That is the battle. The vets who choose to live in Puerto Rico should get the same benefits that we do here in the U.S. Yet they do not. We have to all fight for that right for them.”
This year, as well, Molina said there was something new in that the Encore Boston Harbor casino agreed to support the Association and its efforts.
“It’s not the quantity of the donation,” he said. “The importance is they thought of us and wanted to support the Puerto Rican Veterans Square Monument Association.” The Association will celebrate its 20th year this July.