Local Army veterans to receive recognition decades later

Updated:

Loading
OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. —

It's a special Memorial Day for a group of local veterans who were part of an all-Puerto Rican Army unit.

The men just found out a bill to award them the Congressional Gold Medal is on its way to President Barack Obama.

Decades have passed but the memories are still fresh for members of the Army's 65th Infantry Regiment.

Jesus Asencio-Vazquez has a scar to remind him of the night he was shot in Korea. He told WFTV's Nancy Alvarez a solider standing right behind him was killed.

"We lost a lot of friends, we did a lot of fighting," Asencio-Vazquez said.

The all-Puerto Rican unit, known as the Borinqueneers, just learned they'll be receiving the Congressional Gold Medal after the U.S. Senate passed a bill last week.

"To me, it was one of the happiest days of my life," Edwin Aviles said.

Aviles remembers serving as an interpreter for fellow soldiers who only spoke Spanish.

"They did not understand the orders that were given. They say, 'OK start moving that way,' and if you don't point, they go the other way," Aviles said.

About 65 soldiers from Puerto Rico who served in Korea have been located and contacted in Florida. But there could be many more in Puerto Rico and across the country who have no idea they're receiving this honor.

The regiment left its biggest mark in Korea, where the soldiers helped rescue a unit of Marines during a pivotal battle. They engaged in fierce fighting and in 1951, they were behind the last recorded bayonet assault in Army history.

After so many years, the Osceola County men never imagined this recognition would came. But at ages 84, 85 and 91, they're thrilled it's finally happened.

"I feel happy. Because we did something very important. We feel so proud of what we did," Angel Mendoza said.