Emilio Castro-Rivera received the Raymond G. Davis Award from the American Veterans Center.
During his military career, he was awarded a Purple Heart, Medal for Valor, four Bronze Stars and the
Korean Commendation Ribbon.
Mila Santos never knew much about her father’s experience in the Korean War.
“When we would ask, he would shut down,” says the senior administrative support associate at USAA.
But her dad, Emilio Castro-Rivera, got back in touch with some of his old Army comrades about seven years ago. That was followed by the release of “The Borinqueneers,” a documentary about the Puerto Rican 65th Infantry Regiment, the only segregated all-Hispanic unit in U.S. Army history.
So Castro-Rivera, a Borinqueneer from 1950 to 1954, finally told his story.
Emilio Castro-Rivera was a Borinqueneer serving in Korea.
Most of the Puerto Ricans had never left their island home and only spoke Spanish. When they arrived in Korea, they weren’t equipped with winter clothing and couldn’t communicate what they needed. Many suffered from frostbite.
Castro-Rivera remembers members of his unit being ordered to shave off their mustaches; they weren’t allowed to regrow them until they “proved their manhood on the front line.”
“They were made to feel inferior,” his daughter says. “Knowing that, it falls into place why he didn’t want to talk about it.”
After four years in the Army, Castro-Rivera joined the Air Force and retired as a chief sergeant major after 26 years. Santos is proud of her father’s story, and she appreciates working in a place that values diversity and inclusion.
“These are important issues, and USAA has set the bar for diversity and inclusion education and communication,” she says. “Recognizing this reality helps people understand each other, and that’s how prejudices go away.”
In 2014, the Borinqueneers received the highest possible honor when Congress recognized the 65th Infantry Regiment with the Congressional Gold Medal.
“It was mind-blowing and humbling,” she says. “All we could do is sit there in awe, not just of my dad, but of all these men.”
The Borinqueneers received their medals earlier this year.
National Hispanic Heritage Month is observed from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 in the U.S.
Learn more about the Borinqueneers and see photos and video from their Congressional Gold Medal presentation in Washington, D.C. Visit www.borinqueneers.org.
Mila Santos says it was an honor for her father to represent Puerto Rico during his service, and she is proud to come from a military background.
The Borinqueneers’ Congressional Gold Medal
USAA recognizes the strength that comes with a variety of perspectives and beliefs, and an environment that encourages respect and trust. Our ability to attract, develop and retain the very best diverse talent reflective of our membership and community is vital to our continued success. Our goal is to purposefully include diverse perspectives to achieve superior business results and fulfill our mission.
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