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Modesto Cartagena

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Modesto Cartagena
Sergeant First Class Modesto Cartagena
Born(1921-07-21)July 21, 1921
Cayey, Puerto Rico
DiedMarch 2, 2010(2010-03-02) (aged 88)
Guayama, Puerto Rico
Place of burial
AllegianceUnited States United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service1942–1945
Rank sergeant first class
Unit65th Infantry
Battles/warsWorld War II
Korean War
AwardsDistinguished Service Cross
Silver Star
Legion of Merit
Bronze Star (2)
Purple Heart

Sergeant First Class Modesto Cartagena de Jesús (July 21, 1921 – March 2, 2010) was a member of the United States Army who served in the 65th Infantry Regiment, a military regiment consisting of Puerto Rican enlisted soldiers and officers from the continental United States also known as "The Borinqueneers," during World War II and the Korean War, becoming the most decorated Hispanic soldier in that war. He was the most decorated Puerto Rican soldier in history.[1][2]

Early years[edit]

Cartagena was born in a poor family, and raised in the mountains of Cayey, Puerto Rico during the Great Depression. Cartagena enlisted in the U.S. Army in San Juan, Puerto Rico and was assigned to the 65th Infantry, also known as The Borinqueneers because, with the exception of the officer staff, it was made up of Puerto Rican enlisted men. During World War II he served in units guarding military installations in the Caribbean and later in the Allied occupation of Germany. Cartagena was discharged after the 65th Infantry Regiment returned to Puerto Rico.[1][3][4]

Korean War[edit]

Company "C" on patrol

Upon the outbreak of the Korean War, Cartagena reenlisted and entered the army with the rank of sergeant. He was assigned to Company C, 65th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division and sent to Korea.[5]

The men of the 65th, now attached to the army's 3d Infantry Division, were among the first infantrymen to meet the enemy on the battlefields of Korea. After November, 1950, they fought daily against units of the Chinese People's Liberation Army after the Chinese entered the war on the North Korean side. One of the hardships suffered by the Puerto Ricans was the lack of warm clothing during the cold and harsh winters.[6] Among the battles and operations in which the 65th participated was Operation Killer in January 1951, becoming the first regiment to cross the Han River in South Korea during the operation. In April 1951, the Regiment participated in the Uijonbu Corridor drives.[7]

He earned the nickname "One Man Army".[8] On April 19, 1951, Cartagena, "with no regard for his own safety," as the official record states, left his position and charged directly into devastating enemy fire, single-handedly destroying two enemy emplacements on Hill 206 near "Yonch'on," North Korea. After taking out the emplacements, he was knocked to the ground twice by exploding enemy grenades. Nevertheless, he got up and attacked three more times, each time destroying an enemy emplacement until he was wounded. On October 19, 2002, during a ceremony honoring the 65th Infantry, when he was asked about the battle, Cartagena responded that he just hurled back at the Chinese the grenades thrown at him. He thought that the rest of the squad was behind him, and didn't realize most of them had been wounded and forced to take cover. Later they found 33 dead Chinese in the machine gun and automatic emplacements and they found 15 more dead in the positions he had destroyed on his way up the hill.[7] Cartagena, who had lost a lot of blood, was sent to Taibu in a helicopter and then to Japan to the 128th Station Hospital[9] where he was hospitalized for 62 days. According to 1st Lt. Reinaldo Deliz Santiago:

"Sgt. Cartagena's actions prevented much heavier casualties within my platoon and I feel that his courage and superior leadership and own initiative were decisive factors for the accomplishment of the mission of the unit"[10]

Cartagena was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross which is the second-highest military decoration of the United States Army (second to the Medal of Honor), awarded for extreme gallantry and risk of life in actual combat with an armed enemy force.[11]

Distinguished Service Cross citation[edit]

Cartagena, Modesto

The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to Modesto Cartagena (RA10404100), Sergeant, U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United Nations while serving with Company C, 1st Battalion, 65th Infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division. Sergeant Cartagena distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action against enemy aggressor forces in the vicinity of Yonch'on, Korea, on 19 April 1951. On that date, Company C was assigned the mission of capturing Hill 206, a terrain feature dominating a critical road junction. When the company assaulted the summit, it encountered stubborn resistance from a well-entrenched and fanatically determined hostile force. Sergeant Cartagena, directed to move his squad forward in order to approach the enemy positions from another ridgeline, led his men toward the objective, but, almost immediately, the group was forced to seek cover from an intense and accurate volume of small-arms and automatic-weapons fire. Locating the hostile emplacements that posed the greatest obstacle to the advance of the friendly forces, Sergeant Cartagena left his position and, charging directly into the devastating enemy fire he hurled a grenade at the first emplacement, totally destroying it. Ordering his squad to remain under cover, he successfully and single-handedly assaulted the second enemy position. Although knocked to the ground by exploding enemy grenades, Sergeant Cartagena repeated this daring action three more times. Finally, an increased volume of fire from the remaining hostile emplacements was concentrated on him and he was wounded. The extraordinary heroism and completely selfless devotion, to duty displayed by Sergeant Cartagena throughout this action enabled the company to secure its objective successfully with a minimum of casualties, reflect great credit on himself and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service. Headquarters, Eighth U.S. Army, Korea: General Orders No. 698 (September 16, 1951) Home Town: Puerto Rico[12]

Later years[edit]

Cartagena spent 20 years in the army before retiring as a sergeant first class in 1971. He continued to be an active figure around the 65th Infantry headquarters in Puerto Rico long after his retirement. He also had family in El Paso, Texas. His family, upon learning of Modesto's actions, had taken it upon themselves to make a request to Congress that he be awarded the Medal of Honor. They received support on this quest from the Republican Veterans Committee. His supporters argued that the segregation policy of the army, at the time, and the limited English capacity of his company members when filling out the forms for the application, resulted in the awarding of the nations' second-highest decoration, the Distinguished Service Cross.[13]

On March 2, 2010, the day that Puerto Rico commemorated the 93rd anniversary of American citizenship, Cartagena died in his home in the town of Guayama, of a heart attack following a long battle with stomach cancer, he is survived by his sisters María and Virginia and his children Modesto Jr., Luis Antonio, Fernando, Sara, Wilma and Víctor. Cartagena was buried with military honors in the Puerto Rico National Cemetery located in the city of Bayamon. While no Federal government representative attended the interment ceremony for this highly decorated veteran, Puerto Rico's second-highest official, Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock attended. He delivered to Cartagena's family a personal letter from Governor Luis Fortuño and stated that while Cartagena was actually being buried with a Distinguished Service Cross, "in our hearts we're sending him off with the Medal of Honor he deserves" and made a commitment to seek it posthumously.[14][15][16]


January 4, 2007, was officially declared as "SFC Modesto Cartagena Day" in the city of Hartford, Connecticut.[17] The proclamation by Mayor Eddie A. Perez can be viewed here: "SFC Modesto Cartagena Day" Proclamation. An avenue in his native town of Cayey is named after him. On April 14, 2021, USAG Fort Buchanan dedicated the base Visitor Control Center building in honor of SFC Modesto Cartagena.

In 2019 Modesto Cartagena was posthumously inducted to the Puerto Rico Veterans Hall of Fame.[18]

Military awards and decorations[edit]

Cartagena in a Korean War memorial service in 2000.

According to a photo published by the New York Times, Cartagena's numerous decorations are the following:[19]

Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze star
Silver star
Combat Infantryman Badge (2nd award)
Distinguished Service Cross
Silver Star Legion of Merit Bronze Star
w/ 1 bronze "V" device and 1 bronze oak leaf cluster
Purple Heart Army Good Conduct Medal
w/ 3 Good Conduct Loops
American Defense Service Medal
American Campaign Medal World War II Victory Medal Army of Occupation Medal
National Defense Service Medal
w/ 1 service star
Korean Service Medal
w/ 1 silver star
Army Service Ribbon
Army Overseas Service Ribbon United Nations Korea Medal Korean War Service Medal
Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation Meritorious Unit Commendation Army Presidential Unit Citation

Puerto Rican Legislative Award

Foreign decoration The Bravery Gold Medal of Greece was given by the Government of Greece to the 65th Infantry Regiment and to the members of the regiment who fought in the Korean War.


Congressional Gold Medal

External videos
video icon You can see a video of President Barack Obama awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the Borinqueneers on YouTube

On June 10, 2014, President Barack Obama, signed the legislation known as "The Borinqueneers CGM Bill" at an official ceremony. The Bill honors the 65th Infantry Regiment with the Congressional Gold Medal.[20][21][22][23]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Caribbean Business[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ Roman, J.R. (2016). Voices of the Puerto Rican Middle Class in America. ROSEDOG BOOKS. p. 152. ISBN 978-1-4809-6719-9. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  3. ^ Modesto Cartagena, the most decorated Hispanic soldier of the Korean War: National Archives
  4. ^ Goldstein, Richard (5 March 2010). "Modesto Cartagena, Hero of Korea, Is Dead at 87 (Published 2010)". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2018-11-14.
  5. ^ Villahermosa, G.N.; Assoc, B.; Center of Military History (2009). Honor and Fidelity: The 65th Infantry in Korea, 1950-1953. Center of Military History, United States Army. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-16-083324-3. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  6. ^ The 65th Infantry at Jackson Heights-Why?, by Lt. Col. Baltazer Soto, retrieved September 8, 2007
  7. ^ a b "Outpost Kelly". Retrieved October 10, 2006.
  8. ^ "Modesto Cartagena, the most decorated Hispanic soldier of the Korean War". Pieces of History. 2014-09-19. Retrieved 2017-10-11.
  9. ^ "About Us".
  10. ^ Medal of Honor
  11. ^ Dolcater, M.W. (1953). 3d Infantry Division in Korea. 3d Infantry Division. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  12. ^ Cartagena's Distinguished Service Cross citation
  13. ^ Cartagena's family's Medal of Honor campaign site- Archived June 17, 2004, at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ "Alcalde de Cayey lamenta fallecimiento del soldado puertorriqueño más condecorado en la historia de EE.UU". Archived from the original on 2010-03-05. Retrieved 2010-03-04.
  15. ^ Modesto Cartagena, Hero of Korea, Is Dead at 87
  16. ^ "Marco Rubio Requests Medal of Honor for Puerto Rican Soldier | Fox News Latino". Fox News. Archived from the original on 2012-03-09. Retrieved 2013-12-05.
  17. ^ "SFC Modesto Cartagena Day" Archived 2007-10-08 at the Wayback Machine.
  18. ^ "Salón de la Fama".
  19. ^ Goldstein, Richard (5 March 2010). "Modesto Cartagena, Hero of Korea, is Dead at 87". The New York Times.
  20. ^ Obama honors Puerto Rican Infantry Regiment with Congressional Gold Medal, Washington Post, June 10, 2014.
  21. ^ Dan Friedman, "Puerto Rico's Borinqueneers recognized with Congressional Gold Medal," New York Daily News, June 11, 2014.
  22. ^ Obama awards Borinqueneers Congressional Medal of Honor, NBC News, June 10, 2014.
  23. ^ Richard Payerchin, "President Obama to honor Army's Puerto Rican regiment the Borinqueneers," The Morning Journal, June 9, 2014.