Review: Men of the 65th: The Borinqueneers of the Korean War

Four soldiers holding rifles are kneeling or standing on a hilly area. They are wearing olive pants and shirts along with helmets. They all have mustaches and are staring intently. The sky is a light green color.

Men of the 65th: The Borinqueneers of the Korean War by Talia Aikens-Nuñez

Publisher’s Summary: Honor and Fidelity. That is the motto of the 65th Infantry Regiment, also known as the Borinqueneers, the only Puerto Rican unit in the United States Army.

Since the regiment’s creation in 1899, the men of the 65th have proudly served the US through multiple wars, despite facing racial discrimination. Their courage, loyalty, and patriotism earned them hundreds of accolades, including the Congressional Gold Medal in 2014.

But the honor and fidelity of the men of the 65th came into question in 1952, in the midst of the Korean War, when ninety-one Borinqueneers were arrested and tried for desertion and disobeying orders. How could this happen in one of the most distinguished and decorated units of the Army?

In this telling of one of the forgotten stories of the Korean War, author Talia Aikens-Nuñez guides us through the history of the Borinqueneers and the challenges they faced leading up to what was the largest court martial in the entire war. Rediscover the bravery of the men of the 65th through Aikens-Nuñez’s thorough writing and the soldiers’ firsthand accounts of the Korean War.

My thoughts: Talia Aikens-Nuñez brings together quotes, images, and so much more to tell this story that is likely to be new to a lot of readers. The narrative flows well on its own, but the addition of the many images, maps, and other graphics help bring a lot of context.

The 65th was a unique unit and though they had more than their fair share of challenges, the author devoted the majority of the book to the extraordinary things they were able to accomplish in spite of the difficulties. Aikens-Nuñez sets the stage by explaining some of the history of Puerto Rico and the United States. From the beginning and throughout many quotes from soldiers in the regiment are included that really point to the humanity of these names on the page especially when discussing the racism that they were dealing with over the years. There are also direct quotes from officers and other leaders like MacArthur expressing admiration and appreciation for these men. That is why the court-martials at the end of the war do not add up.

The evidence is laid out from the early days of the regiment. The second chapter is one of the most interesting and showcases a military exercise prior to the Korean fighting. The 65th, or Aggressors, were up against soldiers from other units in the US military called Liberators, but there were distinct advantages for the Liberators. The planning and execution of the exercise was intriguing and the author kept it suspenseful.

This book teaches a lot about this particular group of people, but it also helps readers understand quite a bit about how the Korean conflict came about and progressed. This might fill in a lot of blanks left for students who get little information about Asian history beyond World War II.

The book ends with a look at the court-martials and the many things that contributed to the injustice. Because the book is so tightly focused on this group of people, there is very little about the people of Korea which surprised me a little, but it makes sense given the purpose of the book.

Recommendation: Get it soon. This will be a great option for anyone with an interest in war, Puerto Rican history, the Korean war, or racial relations in the US military. I really enjoyed learning about the Borinqueneers and believe their story will speak to many young readers.

Publisher: Zest Books
Pages: 136
May 2, 2023
Review copy: ARC via publisher