The U.S. Army organized the first battalion of Puerto Rican troops in 1899, one year after Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States following the Spanish-American War. These troops were reorganized as the Puerto Rico Provisional Regiment of Infantry in 1901, and attached to the Regular Army of the US in 1908. At that time, the soldiers of the Puerto Rico Regiment were considered "colonial troops," responsible only for the defense of their own island.
First World War
On March 2nd, 1917, just before the United States entered the war, Puerto Ricans were granted American citizenship. In addition, Puerto Rican men became liable for the military draft. Subsequently, 18,000 Puerto Ricans served as members of the American armed forces. Racially segregated, many of them were sent to the Panama Canal to guard against an enemy attack, while others were sent to Europe.
Second World War
From 1940 to 1946, more than 65,000 Puerto Ricans served in the American military, most of them going overseas. The 295th and 296th Infantry Regiments of the Puerto Rican National Guard participated in the Pacific theater, while other Puerto Rican soldiers served in Europe. In addition, some 200 Puerto Rican women served in the Women's Army Corps, where some were used as linguists in the field of cryptology, communication, and interpretation.
The Korean War (1950-1953), brought Puerto Rican soldiers their greatest visibility, highest awards and most punishing losses. A total of 61,000 Puerto Ricans served in the military during the war, most of them volunteers. The conflict killed 756 Puerto Ricans, making the island's per capita losses nearly twice that of the United States as a whole. One of every 42 US military personnel killed in Korea was Puerto Rican.
The 43,434 Puerto Ricans serving in the 65th Infantry Regiment (link to heroes page and 65th Infantry Information) saw extensive service in nine major campaigns, losing 582 men in battlefield action. Korea was also the scene of the heroics that earned Fernando Luis Garcia, the first Puerto Rican Congressional Medal of Honor winner, that high honor.
During the Vietnam Conflict (1963-1973), approximately 48,000 Puerto Ricans served: 270 were killed and more than 3,000 were wounded.. In all, three Puerto Ricans won the Medal of Honor during this conflict, Euripedes Rubio, Carlos James Lozada, and Hector Santiago-Colón.
Puerto Rico Military History
1898 Spanish-American War: Puerto Rico becomes a territory of the United States.
1899 The US Army organizes the first battalion of Puerto Rican troops.
1901 Puerto Rico Provisional Regiment of Infantry established.
1908 Puerto Rico Provisional Regiment attached to the Regular Army of the US
1917 Jones Act grants US citizenship to residents of Puerto Rico.
1917-18 World War I: Puerto Ricans enter draft, about 18,000 serve in Puerto Rico and the Panama Canal Zone.
1920 Puerto Rico Provisional Regiment renamed the 65th Infantry Regiment
1941-45 World War II: 65,000 Puerto Ricans (including 23,000 volunteers) serve in Europe, North Africa, and the Caribbean. Women from Puerto Rico serve in the Women's Army Corps (WAC).
1948 First elected Governor of Puerto Rico.
1950-53 Korean War: the 43,434 Puerto Ricans of the 65th Infantry Regiment distinguish themselves in numerous acts of valor. Fernando Luis Garcia receives the Congressional Medal of Honor.
1950 Congress passes Public Law 600, authorizing Puerto Rico to draft its own constitution.
1952 Puerto Rico adopts a local constitution and approves "Commonwealth" status, attaining full local self-government similar to that of a state. However, Puerto Rico remains a US territory, and Congress still claims sovereignty over the island.
1961-74 Vietnam War: Almost 50,000 Puerto Ricans serve during this conflict. Euripides Rubio, Carlos James Losada, and Hector Santiago-Colón receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.
1990-91 Puerto Ricans are among the 20,000 Hispanic Americans deployed in the Persian Gulf for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
1993 Domingo Arroyo, a Marine from Puerto Rico, is the first of 44 American soldiers killed in Somalia.
2000 The American Veterans' Committee for Puerto Rico Self-Determination is formed. The committee's founding leaders are former Chairman William A. Navas (Maj. General, US Army, Ret.), Vice Chairman Francisco Ivarra (National Commander, American GI Forum), and Honorary Chairman Horacio Rivero (Admiral, US Navy, Ret.).