(c) Connecticut Explored Inc. Fall 2020
In 1899, shortly after Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory and the U.S. government appointed a military governor there, the United States Congress created the 65th Infantry Division as a division of Puerto Rican soldiers (though Puerto Ricans were not yet United States citizens). Since then the division has served with honor in every United States conflict. The 65th regiment was nicknamed the Borinqueneers during the Korean War, a name derived from a combination of Borinquen, (the name given to the island of Puerto Rico by its original inhabitants, the Taino), and buccaneer. In 2016 the United States Congress awarded the 65th the Congressional Gold Medal, which honors those who have performed an act that had a positive impact on American history.
Although memorials to the 65th regiment exist in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Boston, Massachusetts, Buffalo, New York, and Ocala, Florida, the Borinqueneers had never been so honored in Connecticut. That changed through a random encounter in 2015.
Chris Dupery, a veteran of the 82nd Airborne Division, attended a New Britain city council meeting that year. A gentleman associated with the Borinqueneers noticed the 82nd pin on Dupery’s jacket and engaged him in conversation. At that time Dupery was an employee of Crosskey Architects in Hartford, and the conversation turned to the dream of a local memorial to the 65th. A group of Borinquen advocates, including New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart, city council members Wilfred Papon, Geraldo Reyes, Carmelo Rodriguez (chairperson of the New Britain Latino Coalition), and State Representative Robert Sanchez had been working to facilitate the memorial. Through Dupery, Crosskey Architects agreed to provide design services at a minimal fee. The project got up and running when Rep. Sanchez secured a $300,000 state grant. The City of New Britain then provided a site—a small abandoned green space at the intersection of Beaver Street and Farmington Avenue. Ron Goodin, then with Crosskey Architects, was the principal in charge of the memorial’s design. Crosskey architects Eric O’Donnell, Angelo Palmieri, and others brainstormed several creative and viable options. Landscape architects at New Britain’s To Design provided the site and landscape plan.
The design, selected by a committee of Borinquen advocates, was bold, respectful, and creative. A trio of rampart walls and sentry boxes, representing the San Filipe de Morro fortification in San Juan, forms the centerpiece of the memorial. In front of the walls, a small plaza is embellished with an eight-point white Maltese cross, the 65th regiment’s coat of arms. Chiseled across the rear of the center rampart is the regiment’s motto: Honor Et Fidelitos (Honor and Fidelity.) Each of the rear rampart walls features a reproduction of the front and back of the Congressional Gold Medal. The front of the medal depicts a close-up portrait of a unit staff sergeant in front of three others, charging up a rocky hill. Decorating the backside of the medal are laurel leaves, a sentry box, the eight-point Maltese cross, the regiment motto, and the dates 1899 – 1956. Mounted to the rear of these walls is a panel describing the storied history of the division and a reproduction of a painting by Dominic D ‘Andrea that depicts an epic charge against a Chinese division during the Korean War.
Continuing in the charitable spirit set by Crosskey Architects, the LaRosa Building Group of Meriden agreed to build the memorial at a deeply discounted cost. LaRosa initiated construction in 2017, and the work rapidly progressed—until it came time for the final finish of the walls.
Goodin and his team of architects had intended the rampart walls to have a weathered, worn, even damaged appearance to resemble the San Filipe de Morro, which had survived many attacks over the centuries. Understandably, the concrete contractor was apprehensive about “damaging” his new work. Goodin was not to be deterred. He spent several weeks “attacking” the walls with a hammer and chisel before applying the final stain that would make the walls appear battle-worn. Goodin’s wife Beth also got into the spirit and hand crafted a small Borinqueneers flag.
On April 28, 2018, officials dedicated the 65th Regiment Borinqueneers Memorial Park to all Borinqueneer veterans. The New Britain Borinqueneers Motorcycle Club escorted guests of honor Borinqueneer Veterans Joseph Picard of Wethersfield and Celestino Cordova of New Haven to the memorial site. Numerous politicians and officials were in attendance, including the Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Nevares. Rep. Sanchez summed up the good feelings, noting that “all Puerto Ricans have someone in their family who served in the Borinqueneers.”
As the ceremony ended and the crowds dispersed, several people lingered at the centerpiece of the memorial, a lamb representing peace and confraternity, sitting on a pedestal holding the division flag. Below the lamb is a plaque with the regiment hymn, whose last lines read:
Win or Lose we fought with Bravery,
Our regiment covered itself with honor. In over a thousand combats and hundreds of battles
With our Face to the wind
The regiment of my Borinquen marched on
Goodbye beloved land
Phillips Barlow, ASLA, is the founding principal of To Design LLC, a landscape architecture and urban planning firm in New Britain. He last wrote “Frederick Law Olmsted in Connecticut” with Elaine Pascarella, Spring 2018.
Connecticut Explored received support for this publication from the State Historic Preservation Office of the Department of Economic and Community Development with funds from the Community Investment Act of the State of Connecticut.
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65th Regiment Borinqueneers Memorial Park
245 Beaver Street, New Britain