Modesto Cartagena, Hero of the “Borinqueneers” Is Dead

Richard Goldstein (The New York Times) reports that Modesto Cartagena died of a heart attack Tuesday at his home in Guayama, Puerto Rico at the age of 87. He was cited for heroism in the Korean War while fighting in a U.S. Army regiment composed almost entirely of soldiers from Puerto Rico and acclaimed for its bravery. (Since one of my uncles returned from the Korean War irreparably wounded, mentally and physically, in a way that eventually tore his family apart, this article strikes a chord.) What is most interesting about this article is that it highlights the prejudicial attitudes that Puerto Rican soldiers had to surmount while fighting for the U.S.  Here are excerpts with a link to the full article below.

In September 1950, the 65th Infantry Regiment arrived at the South Korean port of Pusan. Over the next three years the regiment fought in nine major battles, including a blocking maneuver that helped Marines complete a fighting retreat from the Chinese Communist onslaught at the Chosin Reservoir in December 1950.

Brig. Gen. William Harris, the regiment’s commander during the early stages of the Korean War, was quoted by The Denver Post as having written after the war that he was reluctant to take the post because the Puerto Rican troops were disparaged in the military as a “rum and Coca-Cola outfit.” But, he continued, he came to view them as “the best damn soldiers in that war.” More than 3,800 members of the regiment were killed or wounded in Korea.

Sergeant Cartagena, a member of the regiment’s First Battalion, received the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s highest award for valor after the Medal of Honor, for “extraordinary heroism” in a single-handed assault that enabled his company to seize a hill near Yonchon, South Korea, on April 19, 1951. [. . .] A native of Cayey, P.R., Mr. Cartagena was born on July 22, 1922. He fought in Europe during World War II, and besides the Distinguished Service Cross was awarded Silver and Bronze Stars in both World War II and Korea.

The 65th Infantry Regiment became known as the Borinqueneers, the term derived from an Indian word for Puerto Rico denoting “land of the brave lord.” Its history was related in the 2007 television documentary “The Borinqueneers,” produced, directed and written by Noemi Figueroa Soulet.

For full article, see

One thought on “Modesto Cartagena, Hero of the “Borinqueneers” Is Dead

  1. According to the records, the first Porto Rican officer in the organized native troops for the 65th Infantry was 1st Lt. Blas Nadal, (a great uncle) who was appointed an officer from the ranks on 14 August 1899.

    My family has had a very strong military connection with this unit since its inception. The Borinqueneers documentary is excellent, and tells it like it was for these soldiers.

    Right On Ivette!!

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