[Crompond, NY – May 15, 2007] – The experience of Latinos in the U.S. Army has rarely been portrayed in film. Now comes “The Borinqueneers, the never-before-told story of the 65th Puerto Rican Regiment, the only all-Hispanic unit in the history of the U.S. Army. Narrated by Hector Elizondo (Chicago Hope, Pretty Woman), this compelling 60-minute documentary relies on interviews with the regiment’s veterans and rare archival footage to trace the unique experience of the 65th, culminating in the Korean War and the dramatic events that would threaten its very existence. The Borinqueneers premieres on June 7, 2007 on public station WMFE in Orlando, Florida, and on PBS stations nationwide in August (check local listings).
Named after “Borinquen”, the word given to Puerto Rico by its original inhabitants, the Taino Indians, meaning “land of the brave lord”, the Borinqueneers formed a tight-knit unit bound by a common language and a strong cultural identity. First-time director and producer Noemí Figueroa Soulet spent eight years researching the story and locating veterans of the regiment, some of whom have since passed away. In emotional interviews, they describe the experience of fighting together in vivid detail.
Through their voices, the documentary explores the unique history of the 65th Regiment, a history that illustrates many of the issues surrounding the U.S. relationship with Puerto Rico and the broader Latino experience.
“Puerto Ricans occupy a very special place in the history of the U.S. Army,” says Figueroa Soulet. “As a former colony and now a commonwealth, we don’t have the right to vote in U.S. elections, and yet we serve in the military and we can be drafted. It’s a paradox, but for many of the veterans of the 65th it became an incentive to be even more patriotic, to prove themselves in battle 200%.”
In 1950, more than fifty years after the regiment was created, the men of the 65th finally had the opportunity to prove their mettle in the Korean War, the first military conflict in which they were full participants. In spite of the prejudice that was still the norm in the Army, they performed impressively during the first years of the war, even earning kudos from General MacArthur. ”I was glad that the Puerto Ricans were on my side,” says Colonel Willis “Bud” Cronkhite, who was in charge of one of the regiment’s companies. “I would not want them to come after me with a bayonet!”
But as the Korean War bogged down into a stalemate, the regiment felt the full weight of the new “hold at all costs” strategy, losing many of its men in impossible missions. “The hill looked as if there had never been any vegetation there,” recalls veteran Eugenio Martínez Matos. “There were pieces of legs with shoes. Sometimes you would slip on them. It was a very traumatic experience.”
In October of 1952, the regiment faced one of its toughest missions when several companies were sent to defend a barren outpost against overwhelming enemy fire. Following a massive mortar barrage, several dozen men abandoned their positions. Wrapped in mystery and controversy to this day, the real story of what happened that day and the days that followed has never been told until now.
The dramatic events are recounted by men like Colonel Carlos Betances, whose life and career were forever changed that day. “I tried to convince the men to go back,” he recalls. “When I mentioned to them that a court-martial can sentence you to death and be shot, one of them told me, ‘Colonel, I’d rather take a chance and be shot down here than stay up there and for sure I’ll die.’”
More than ninety Puerto Rican soldiers were tried in one of the largest courts-martial of the Korean War. The trials touched off a groundswell of protests in Puerto Rico and drew the attention of the U.S. press. “It was the first case in this war in which men from a unit that won international recognition for bravery unexplainedly seemed to have changed their character under fire,” pondered The New York Times.
The Borinqueneers uncovers the circumstances surrounding the dramatic events of 1952 and explores the rich history of the 65th Puerto Rican Regiment. “I want the American people to know that we did our share,” concludes 65th veteran Wendell Vega.
Written and produced by Noemi Figueroa Soulet, and distributed by El Pozo Productions, this feature-length documentary film chronicles the history of the all-Puerto Rican 65th Infantry Regiment and its significant contribution during the Korean War. The 78-minute DVD also features English and Spanish versions and deleted interviews. Worldwide DVD release, Wednesday, August 15th.
For More Information Contact:
Noemi Figueroa Soulet
Tel/Fax: (914) 739-3989