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PRCC organizes gala event to honor Puerto Rican heroes of the 65th Infantry

By Ingrid Marie Rivera, La Prensa Correspondent

Lorain’s DeLuca’s Place in the Park was transformed into the Puerto Rican island this past week.

In a hall adorned with neon colored, electric, 6-foot-tall Palm trees, two Puerto Rican military heroes of Lorain were honored at the “Elegant Evening of Culture,” June 24, 2009.

Carlos Montes, 76, (on left) receives an award for his service in the Korean War through the 65th Infantry by Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera (on right).

The gala was sponsored and organized by the Puerto Rican Cultural Committee (PRCC) for honoring the Puerto Rican community in light of its recognition as this year’s International Festival spotlight nationality.

Carlos I. Montes received a PRCC recognition award for serving in the Korean War through the famous 65th Infantry, also known as “The Borinqueneers.”

Miguel Berlingeri also received recognition for his participation in the same infantry and same war.

Lorain Mayor Anthony Krasienko said he is proud to represent Lorain’s rich diversity.

“We have so many stories in our city and so many great Americans and Lorainites just like these gentlemen...that put so much on the line for this community and this country and we're surrounded by everyday heroes that we don't even know exist,” Krasienko said.

With a combination of either cuatros, guitars, guiros or maracas, musicians from the bolero style trio Los Tres Sonidos and the newly formed band Sabor Latino serenaded a crowd of roughly 200 people while they ate a typical Puerto Rican dish of arroz con gandules and pork.

The evening began and ended with the young performers of “Raices Latinas,” dancing traditional Puerto Rican pieces on the outdoor patio and indoor hall while vejigantes ran through the crowd.

Keynote Speaker Luis Balzac, Regional Director for the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, was unable to attend the gala. Balzac was set to speak about the political status of Puerto Rico. His topic, however, was still discussed briefly.

His topic was touched upon when Montes said “ Yo quiero a Puerto Rico libre,” meaning, “I want Puerto Rico free,” adding he was an Independentista. In contrast, Berlingeri said “I want Puerto Rico to be the next state of this country,” during his brief speech.


“The Borinqueneers”

Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera presented the award to Montes after describing the history of the 65th Infantry Regiment—an extension of the U.S. military mostly comprised of Puerto Ricans. The infantry members served in World War I and II and the Korean War.

Raices Latinas perform

He called the Korean War “the often forgotten war” that claimed the lives of 743 soldiers and wounded 2,318 of that infantry while fighting in South and North Korea in the 1950s.

“The story of the 65th Infantry is a story of valor and tragedy and sacrifice,” Rivera said “It’s a story that every Puerto Rican can share in the pride,” he said.

A notable accomplishment for the Borinqueneers’ came in 1951 when they were ordered by the U.S. military to secure certain hills in South Korea during the Korean War; the men managed to do so and even forced the Chinese to retreat.

But by 1953, the enemy gained the upperhand as they were undermanned and unprepared; many had to deal with discrimination from their superiors and prosecution.

Rivera said Puerto Ricans have served in every major U.S. military war since the American Revolution and continue to serve today in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Montes said he did not deserve the award. The audience rose to its feet; some members wiped their eyes and replied, “Yes, you do.” His daughter, María Román, gave him a strong hug as tears rolled down her eyes.

Yo lo unico que he hecho es querer a Puerto Rico. Eso ha sido mi amor desde niño,” Montes said. “Si quiero a Puerto Rico, pero yo defiendo a este país cuando tenga que defenderlo,” he said.

He said all he did was love Puerto Rico but repeated he would die fighting for the United States if necessary. He said he served in both Vietnam and the Korean War.

After his speech, he said he felt the true deservers of the award were the soldiers who died in combat. Montes said he helped to bury more than 40 Puerto Ricans, during his dedication to bring their bodies back to Puerto Rico—among them were three of his friends.

Montes, who sang the Puerto Rican National Anthem at the gala, has a strong military family.

Los Tres Sonidos serenade the guests
at the gala

Of his eight children, three sons fought in either the Gulf or Vietnam War. Plus, he had two brothers and a sister who fought in World War II, Vietnam, and Korean wars. His uncle fought in World War I.


Berlingeri said he served in World War II and the Korean War.

“In December of 1951, we liberated the Marines that were surrounded by the (enemy) in North Korea and I was there in a fox hole,” he said. 

Lydia Esparra, emcee for the gala who brought the crowd to great laughter often throughout the night, congratulated the Puerto Rican community for keeping the culture and the Spanish language alive.

“How wonderful it is that we had two Puerto Rican American heroes in our presence,” she said.

Montes said the island of Puerto Rico may be small, but its contributions to the world have been great.

Puerto Rico es una cosita tan pequeñita pero tanto qué ha dado al mundo,” Montes said “Chiquitita pero sabrosa.”


Miguel Berlingeri, 82, who was also honored for his service in the Korean War through the 65th Infantry, speaks to the crowd

Emcee Lydia Esparra speaks with Father William Thaden while Sabor Latino plays "Palo, Palo bonito Palo es," in the background.

Carlos Montes sings the National Anthem of Puerto Rico "La Borinquena" at the Elegant Evening of Culture.





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