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Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (GA)

'Borinqueneers' Were Big Part Of Silva-Torres' Life

Retired Army Soldier Spent Two Wars As Part Of Distinguished All-Puerto Rican Unit

BY S. THORNE HARPER / Staff writer

December 28, 2003
Copyright ©2003 Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (GA). All rights reserved.

Years after the Army's bloody engagement at Pork Chop Hill, German Silva-Torres Sr. visited the Korean War battle site with his wife.

In 1951, the 19-year-old Silva-Torres and other "Borinqueneers" -- the U.S. Army's only all-Puerto Rican unit -- had charged up the hill, through a barrage of artillery and gunfire.

Visiting the site, Sara Belen-Torres recalled her husband -- a tough, disciplined master sergeant -- breaking down in tears.

"There were so many Puerto Ricans killed in that place," she said Friday in her Columbus home.

Silva-Torres, also a veteran of the Vietnam War and survivor of a horrific 1953 plane crash involving the Borinqueneers, died Dec. 19. He was 70.

Friend Vidal Cordero, who served with the Borinqueneers in World War II and Korea, called Silva-Torres "a quiet gentleman," and said there aren't many Borinqueneers left. "We're passing away very fast," said Cordero, 77, of Smiths Station, Ala. "We're very proud of the regiment. We gave them hell."

The Borinqueneers, which get their name from Puerto Rico's native Borinquen Indians, were formed on the former Spanish colony in 1899 after the U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War.

The unit, officially the 65th Infantry Regiment, was attached to the 3rd Infantry Division and among the first troops sent to Korea.

Silva-Torres earned the Combat Infantryman's Badge, presented to soldiers who engaged in combat. He entered civil service following his 27-year Army career, and was the first translator at the old Army School of the Americas at Fort Benning.

Family and friends remember Silva-Torres as a strong disciplinarian who loved sports and coaching youth athletics. They also recall his rule against wearing hats inside the house -- something every soldier learns early in basic training.

"It could've been George Bush coming in, but he'd tell him, 'You'd better take that hat off,' " said his daughter, Evy Tuggle.

"And you better be wearing a shirt when you came in," said his son, Hector Silva-Torres.

A year after he returned from the Korean War, Silva-Torres and 41 other Borinqueneers were being flown from Puerto Rico to Fort Knox, Ky., when their plane crashed.

Silva-Torres, one of only 15 to survive, suffered a broken neck and a broken leg.

Sara Belen-Torres was an 18-year-old high school student in Puerto Rico when she met her future husband. He was a dashing 19-year-old, just back from the war.

"He was so handsome," Belen-Torres said. "He had so many girlfriends."

They began dating, but split when he received orders to go to Fort Knox. He wrote a letter to her from a Kentucky hospital after the plane crash, asking her to become his wife.

After 49 years of marriage, this holiday season has been tough for Belen-Torres. Her brother was buried on Dec. 18. Her husband died suddenly the following day. He was buried on Christmas Eve.

"He died in my arms," she said. "It's hard to say what I'm going through right now."

But family members say she's tough and resourceful. They recalled a visit to Fort Benning by President Lyndon Johnson while Silva-Torres was in Vietnam. The late Elena Diaz-Verson Amos, wife of Aflac founder John Amos, arranged a brief meeting between the president and Belen-Torres.

During their meeting, Johnson asked how she was managing to raise five children while her husband was away.

"I just take them bowling," she told the president.

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