By Hubert Walker for CoinWeek …..
At 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time today, the 65th Infantry Regiment of the United States Army – nicknamed the “Borinqueneers” – received the Congressional Gold Medal at a bipartisan ceremony in Emancipation Hall at the U.S. Capitol’s Visitor Center in Washington, DC. Images of the gold medal, released by the United States Mint are pictured below.
The “Borinqueneers”, a Puerto Rican army regiment known for its service and bravery in both World Wars, the Korean War and beyond, and whose nickname is derived from the native Taíno name for the island, was initially awarded the medal when President Barack Obama signed Public Law 113-120 on Tuesday, June 11, 2014.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest honor the U.S. Congress can bestow upon an individual or group of individuals, having previously been awarded to the likes of Andrew Jackson, Thomas Edison, Jesse Owens and Mother Theresa, among many others. For many, the medal–and the recognition and respect it symbolizes–is long overdue.
Several Congressmen attended the event. Puerto Rico’s representative-at-large Pedro Pierluisi (D) and Florida representative Bill Posey (R-FL8), architects of the law in the House of Representatives, spoke at the ceremony. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), sponsor of the Senate version, did as well. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI1) was responsible for presenting the medal to the 65th Infantry.
The obverse of the Borinqueneers Congressional Gold Medal features a bust of a U.S. Army Staff Sergeant wearing a helmet, jacket and scarf like those worn by American soldiers during World War II, the Korean War, and other mid-20th century conflicts. He also dons a trimmed and closely-cropped mustache, which the Borinqueneers fought for the right to wear because it is a part of their culture. His helmet features a Maltese cross on the right (his left), a symbol of the regiment that is also found at the beginning and end of the medal’s inscription.
On the left of the obverse, three soldiers in diamond formation brandish bayonets as they reach the summit of a hill or mountaintop. The scene refers to several aspects of the unique culture of the 65th Infantry Regiment, who are credited with having conducted the last full-sized bayonet charge in American military history during the Korean War.
The inscription 65th INFANTRY REGIMENT encircles the entire top half of the medal, starting on the left side. Immediately under the first part of that inscription is the word BORINQUENEERS. The staff sergeant’s portrait covers the “S” in BORINQUENEERS and part of the word “REGIMENT”.
The crossed rifles of the 65th Infantry Combat Team are rendered at the very bottom.
U.S. Mint Artistic Infusion Program artist Joel Iskowitz (View Designer’s Profile) designed the obverse; his initials are found at the bottom of the hill. Mint sculptor-engraver Phebe Hemphill (View Designer’s Profile) engraved and adapted the design; her initials are found on the staff sergeant’s jacket, just beneath the collar.
The reverse depicts a famous sentry box overlooking the bay at Fort San Felipe del Morro in San Juan. The Fort is the historic home of the Borinqueneers, and the sentry box was also featured on the 2009 Puerto Rico United States Territories Quarter. During the initial discussions concerning the design of the medal, at least one member (Erik Jensen) of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC) advised against reusing the motif.
To the right of the turret are the inscriptions 1899-1956, WORLD WAR I, WORLD WAR II, and KOREAN WAR. Underneath the inscriptions is a shield bearing the Maltese cross – a long-lived symbol used by many other military units and service organizations as it conveys honor, the Christian faith and courage under fire.
Part of a laurel wreath, ancient symbol of victory, cradles the sentry box along the bottom edge of the medal.
Around the rim of the reverse, on something resembling a banner or ribbon, is the motto HONOR ET FIDELITAS and the inscription ACT OF CONGRESS 2014.
Designer Donna Weaver’s initial’s are located under the tower on the water. Sculptor-Engraver Renata Gordon’s (View Designer’s Profile) initials are found to the right of the shield.