Miguel Hernandez Colon, an 85 year old veteran of the Korean War, was honored for his military service by Congressman Chris Smith yesterday afternoon during a surprise ceremony attended by Hernandez’s family and friends at the Active Day Adult Day Health Center, in Hamilton.
Hernandez served in the 65th Infantry Regiment, based in Puerto Rico, from 1952 through 1954 and as a reservist for seven years. His unit, known and the “Borinqueneers,” was one of the last segregated units in the U.S. Military.
Congressman Smith presented Hernandez five medals:
- National Defense Service Medal
- Korean Service Medal
- United Nations Service Medal for Korea
- NJ Korean Service Medal
- NJ Distinguished Service Medal
“On behalf of the Congress, your family and everyone here, let me just say how proud we all are of you,” said Smith, who was the chairman of the House Veterans Committee for four years, to Hernandez. “You earned these medals. You are a hero.”
“The valiant members of the 65th not only fought communism overseas, but sadly they also fought discrimination in the service,” Smith said. “The 65th is considered to be the last segregated unit in the US military. The 65th Infantry Regiment took on all challenges.”
Smith recounted how then- Private Hernandez was sent by boat to the Sea of Japan and then sent to Korea to guard prisoners, noting that Mr. Hernandez has shared with his family that when the truce was signed, the North Korean prisoners did not want to leave. “They said they were treated better as POWs by the Americans than they would be at home,” Smith said.
The 65th was praised by many for its services in Korea, including by none other than Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur who said the unit’s men were “Showing magnificent ability and courage in field operations. They are a credit to Puerto Rico, and I am proud to have them in my command.” Gen. MacArthur also noted “The Puerto Ricans forming the ranks of the gallant 65th Infantry give daily proof on the battlefields of Korea of their courage, determination and resolute will to victory, their invincible loyalty to the United States and their fervent devotion to those immutable principles of human relations which the Americans of the continent and Puerto Rico have in common. They are writing a brilliant record of heroism in battle, and I am indeed proud to have to have them under my command.”
Mr. Hernandez’s family has a strong military history: his son, Miguel Hernandez Jr., served in the Marines for two years and in the Army for 10 years, including service in Grenada and in the Gulf War.
After the Korean War, Hernandez served as a public school teacher for more than 40 years, including many years in the Trenton School District. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Catholic University of Puerto Rico and received a Master’s degree in Urban studies from The College of NJ. He also taught at Mercer County Community College, where he helped get many students their high school equivalency degrees (GED)