....... Puerto Rico's ...
65th Infantry Regiment
COMMANDS by Colonel Gilberto Villahermosa
Designation: 65th Infantry Regiment
Activation: 4 June 1920
Campaigns: Naples Foggia, Rome-Arno, Central Europe, Rhineland
The 65th Infantry Regiment was created on 2 March 1899 as the Puerto Rico Battalion of Volunteer Infantry to assist the U.S. Army in reestablishing law and order on Puerto Rico following the seizure of the island in 1898 during the Spanish-American War. The battalion proved so successful that the following year it was expanded into the Puerto Rico Regiment of U.S Volunteers and in 1901 became the Puerto Rico Provisional Regiment of Infantry. On 30 June 1908, the regiment became part of the Regular Army and was renamed the Puerto Rico Regiment of Infantry United States Army. During World War I, the regiment guarded vital installations in Puerto Rico and Panama and also trained the newly formed Puerto Rico National Guard. On 4 June 1920, the unit was designated the 65th Infantry Regiment. The regiment was manned with Puerto Rican soldiers and sergeants, and led by Puerto Rican and continental company grade officers and continental field grade officers.
At the beginning of 1941 the strength of the regiment stood at 125 officers and 2,945 enlisted men. Under a series of seasoned commanders, like Colonel John Ross Mendenhall, the 65th Infantry trained intensively for combat in Puerto Rico. A 1915 graduate of West Point, Mendenhall had served with the 3d Infantry Division’s 7th Machinegun Battalion during World War I, winning a Silver Star Commendation and a Purple Heart. Prior to assuming command of the regiment, he had served as an instructor with the New York National Guard’s 107th Infantry Regiment. In February he and the 65th Infantry participated for the first time in night maneuvers at the Salinas Maneuver Area and in August and September in Puerto Rico Department maneuvers. On 7 December, word of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor reached the island and elements of the regiment immediately occupied defensive positions at the Naval Radio Station and Dry Dock on the island. By then the strength of the regiment had grown to 131 officers and 2,991 enlisted men.
The 65th Infantry was the first Puerto Rican unit deployed to Panama to guard the Canal Zone. On 7 January 1943, the regiment departed San Juan, arriving at San Cristobal, the Canal Zone, on 14 January with 153 officers and 3,037 enlisted men. In Panama the unit became part of the Canal Department’s Mobile Force. The regiment guarded vital installations and manned observation posts on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides of Panama. Nor were security missions limited to Panama alone. On 19 August Companies E and F and the Anti-Tank Company departed the Canal Zone, arriving at the Galapagos Islands three days later for temporary duty, relieving elements of the 150th Infantry Regiment. Company E proceeded on to Salinas, Ecuador, where it arrived on 25 August for temporary duty. The men of the regiment also participated in other missions. On 24 October one officer and nine enlisted men of the jungle platoon departed Panama for a rescue mission in the Cocos Islands. They returned on 6 November “after having successfully completed their mission.” The battalions of the 65th were continuously rotated through jungle training for visiting student officers of the Latin American countries. As a result, the regiment attained a high degree of proficiency in jungle operations and was praised for its performance. The 65th conducted security missions until December 1943.
The month prior, Colonel Antulio Segarra had assumed command of the regiment. His appointment was a historical first for the United States Army, Puerto Rico, and the regiment. Segarra was the first Puerto Rican Regular Army officer to command a Regular Army regiment. A 1927 West Point graduate and 1942 General Staff College graduate, the 37 year-old Segarra had commanded the Puerto Rican National Guard’s 296th Infantry Regiment prior to taking command of the 65th Infantry. His selection to command the regiment was a distinction extended to few other minority officers during the entire war. His appointment, along with the deployment of the 65th overseas, was both a sign of the Army’s growing confidence in its Puerto Rican officers and soldiers and a reflection of its growing need for infantry in the combat theaters.
In January the 65th embarked for Jackson Barracks, New Orleans and then Fort Eustis, Virginia, in preparation for overseas deployment to North Africa with 146 officers and 3,106 enlisted men. In Virginia, the men drew new uniforms and equipment and trained. At the beginning of March, the number of officers increased to 162. An advance party of the regiment arrived in Casablanca, French Morocco on 16 March and the remainder of the regiment followed on 5 April. Once overseas the 65th Infantry was parceled out for security missions. The 3d Battalion was assigned to the Twelfth Air Force in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations to guard Army Air Force installations on Corsica. The remainder of the regiment conducted amphibious training in North Africa and performed security missions. After the 3d Battalion rejoined the regiment the focus of training was switched to city fighting. In August, Company C was detached from the 1st Battalion and flown to France to guard the Seventh Army Command Post.
On 22 September, the 2d and 3d Battalions also left North Africa for France, where they were assigned to the Seventh Army. The regiment arrived in Toulon, France on 1 October. By the second week of December the 1st Battalion was guarding the Sixth Army Group and Seventh Army Command Posts, as well as fuel depots and railheads. The 2nd Battalion was assigned to the SOLOC (Southern Line of Communications), guarding trains transporting war supplies between Marseille and Northern France and around the coast as far as Nice. The remainder of the regiment, which included 3d Battalion, the regimental headquarters, the Cannon Company, the Anti-Tank Company, and the Service Company, was attached to the 44th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Brigade and stationed on the front line near Peira Cava, where the regiment held a sector extending from Roquebilliere to Mt. Grosso along the Franco-Italian border. Their mission was to protect the Sixth Army Group’s right flank, conduct vigorous patrolling, and provide early warning should the German Army in Italy attempt to attack into Southern France.
Lieutenant Colonel Juan Cesar Cordero, a Puerto Rican National Guard officer, commanded the 3d Battalion in combat. The 40-year old officer was a graduate of the University of Puerto Rico and Mayaguez’s College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts, where he had received his Reserve Commission as a second lieutenant. His battalion had relieved the 2nd Battalion of the Japanese-American 442nd “Nisei” Infantry Regiment on 13 December. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was on the 65th Infantry’s right, while the 899th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, fighting as infantry, was on the left. Facing the regiment was the German 34th Infantry Division’s 107th Infantry Regiment. During the month the Puerto Ricans participated in a number of small unit engagements at Turini, Epinal-Chenimenil, and Leintray.
On the night of 15 December 1944, Private Sergio Sanchez-Sanchez and Sergeant Angel G. Martinez became the first members of the regiment to die in combat in World War II as a result of a German assault on Company L. In all, seven men of the regiment were killed during December in combat, including two officers and a sergeant. Another ten men were wounded, including two officers and three sergeants. On 4 January 1945, the regimental commander, Colonel George Almond Ford, was killed leading a reconnaissance patrol. A West Pointer and former Coast Artillery officer, Ford had volunteered for service in France and branch transferred to the Infantry. The 3d Battalion was relieved from the Maritime Alps on 26 February 1945, and the entire regiment concentrated in Lorraine for further action in southwest Germany. In March 1945, the 65th crossed the Rhine and remained in Germany as part of the Army of Occupation until October 1945, when it was ordered to Calais, France, for the return home. The regiment returned to Puerto Rico on 9 November 1945. Although its service in World War II had been limited, its soldiers had won a Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, and 90 Purple Hearts while on the front lines. The 65th was awarded battle participation credits for the Naples-Foggia, Rome-Arno, Central Europe, and Rhineland campaigns.
Colonel Gilberto Villahermosa is the Chief of the Combined Joint Task Force Coordination Branch at NATO’s Regional Headquarters Allied Forces North, Brunssum, The Netherlands. His articles have appeared in a number of military publications and his history of the 65th Infantry Regiment in Korea is due to be published by the Army Center of Military History in 2003.
National Archives Sources
“Regimental History of the Sixty-fifth Infantry 1941,” Record Group 407, File INRG-65-to INRG-65-0.3 Box 21147, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.
“Regimental History of the Sixty-fifth Infantry 1942,” Record Group 407, File INRG-65-to INRG-65-0.3 Box 21147, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.
“Regimental History of the Sixty-fifth Infantry 1943,” Record Group 407, File INRG-65-0.1 to INRG-65-0.3 Box 21147, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.
“Regimental History of the Sixty-fifth Infantry 1944, Headquarters Sixty-fifth Infantry, 20 January 1945,” Record Group 407, File INRG-65-0.1 to INRG-65-0.3, Box 21147, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.
“Regimental History of the Sixty-fifth Infantry 1945, Headquarters Sixty-fifth Infantry, Record Group 407, File INRG-65-0.1 to INRG-65-0.3, Box 21147, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.
“Monthly Narrative Historical Report, 1st Battalion, 65th Infantry, 1 January 1945,” Headquarters Sixty-fifth Infantry, 20 January 1945.
“Battalion History (Italian Campaign), Headquarters 3d Battalion, 65th Infantry,” 20 January 1945,” Record Group 407, File INRG-65-0.1 to INRG-65-0.3 Box 21149, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.
Jose Norat Martinez, Guardia Nacional de Puerto Rico Historia y Tradiciones
[National Guard of Puerto Rico. History and Traditions] (San Juan: Puerto Rico National Guard, 1987)
Jose Norat Martinez, Historia del Regimento 65 de Infanteria [History of the 65th
Infantry] (San Juan, Puerto Rico: 1992), p. 55.
“General de Division Juan Cesar Cordero-Davila,” Guardia Nacional de Puerto Rico
Historia y Tradiciones (San Juan: Puerto Rico National Guard, 1987),
“George Almond Ford,” Register of Graduates and Former Cadets of the United
States Military Academy, West Point, New York (West Point, New York: Association of Graduates, 2000), Cadet Number 7519; “George Almond Ford,” Assembly. Association of Graduates, U.S.M.A. Spring 1971, pp. 106-107.
“John R. Mendenhall,” Register of Graduates and Former Cadets of the United
States Military Academy West Point, New York (United States Military Academy, New York, New York: Association of Graduates, 2000), p. 4-105.
“Antulio Segarra, “Official Army Register, January 1, 1943 (Washington D.C.:
United States Government Printing Office, 1943), p. 795; Register of Graduates and Former Cadets of the United States Military Academy West Point, New York 1802-1980 (United States Military Academy, New York: Association of Graduates, 1980), p. 359.
Participation of Puerto Ricans in the Armed Services with Emphasis on World
War I, World War II, and the Korean War, (Headquarters Antilles Command, July 1965), United States Army Center of Military History, Fort McNair, Washington D.C.
Colonel Gilberto Villahermosa, Glory and Honor: The 65th Infantry Regiment
‘Borinqueneers’ in Korea, 1950-1953 (Washington DC: U.S. Army Center of Military History, Pending Publication)