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Bronze Star Awarded to Puerto Rican for Korean War Heroism

November 2, 2001
Copyright © 2001 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

On October 24th 2001, half a century after his act of heroism occurred, and half a world away from where it took place, an ailing Carlos Betances (91), a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel, was recognized with one of this nation’s highest awards for bravery, The Bronze Star. For his defining act of selflessness during the Korean War, President William Jefferson Clinton, before leaving office, authorized the medal’s award to this Puerto Rican native, after witnesses on the scene provided details.

The citation accompanying the medal reads, "For exceptionally meritorious service while assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 65th Infantry Regiment. When enemy mortar fire hit a large grader being driven by a soldier, Lieutenant Colonel Betances ordered his jeep stopped and, under intense enemy fire, without regard for his safety, personally removed the driver of the grader and helped him to safety. "

In the Merritt Island, Florida ceremony, attended by his wife Ester and other family members, the bedridden Betances received the medal from Col. James Crowe, of Patrick Air Force Base. According to Staff Sergeant Hector Cortez, who attended the ceremony, "Lt. Col. Betances quickly grasped the flag of the United States as tears welled up in his eyes as the citation was read."

?Lt. Col Betances was Commander of the 2nd Battalion of the 65th Infantry Regiment, attached to the 3rd Infantry Division during the Korean War. The 65th Infantry Regiment, nicknamed the "Borinqueneers," consisted mostly of soldiers from Puerto Rico and their valor during the three-year conflict became legend. The unit was organized and trained in Puerto Rico and deployed to Korea’s bloody peninsula in August of 1950. Their name, taken from the Borinquen Indian culture, native to Puerto Rico, was agreed upon by the unit’s members themselves, en route to the conflict on a troop ship.

?The 65th’s arrival in Korea was a time of furious combat in a war waged first against the North Korean Army and later massive units of Chinese swarming over the Yalu River from Manchuria. In that bitter winter of 1950, when the 1st Marine Division was forced into a retreat from the advancing Chinese, it was the "Fighting 65th" that protected "leatherneck" supply lines along the mountainous roads and frozen trails, allowing the Marines to fall back and regroup in South Korea. Over the course of the war the 65th fought in nine major campaigns and played a crucial role in several other battles.

?Lt. Col. Carlos Betances is described by survivors of his unit as an officer who "cared for his soldiers and was always willing to go the extra mile with us." Doubtless it was these men and those hard months and years that came back to the old soldier as he pressed the newly awarded medal to his chest days after it was presented. One week after the ceremony, he succumbed to death. His family carried his remains back to Puerto Rico for burial, the island of his birth and the place from which he embarked in the defense of his country some fifty-one years ago.

(A detailed account of the 65th Infantry Regiment in Korea is described in Puerto Rico Herald Profile Archives for Y-2000, Volume 4 # 26)


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