For Puerto Rican veterans, an honor years in the making

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Korean War regiment to be lauded in Worcester.

The Army’s 65th Infantry Regiment, almost exclusively from Puerto Rico, took part in some of the most brutal battles in Korea. General Douglas MacArthur called them “heroic,’’ but inside the Army the soldiers faced their own battles: Some officers questioned their patriotism, derided them with ethnic slurs, or worse, sent them into battle dangerously unprepared.

Today, officials from the federal, state, and Puerto Rican governments will honor the 65th veterans at Worcester’s Korean War Memorial, in Massachusetts’ most public acknowledgement yet of their service. For Puerto Ricans, the biggest Latino group in the state, the ceremony is a chance not only to pay tribute to those who served but also to reflect on a larger population whose history in the United States is often ignored or misunderstood.

The 65th traces its roots to a volunteer battalion created in Puerto Rico a year after Spain ceded the Caribbean island to the United States in 1898 in the Spanish-American War, though the unit was officially activated in 1920.

Puerto Ricans, US citizens since 1917, have served and died in significant numbers in many American wars - no precise numbers are available. But they do not pay federal taxes. They can’t vote in the general election for president, though they can vote in the presidential primaries.

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