Diversity in the Armed Forces

A Timeline of Historical Milestones

For the month of November, the ABA Staff Diversity Council is presenting milestones in the history of the U.S. Armed Forces. 

The Importance of Puerto Ricans in the U.S. Army 
A Brief History of the 65th Infantry

Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship, and with that came the requirement that all men over 18 years old register for the draft. Since World War I, Puerto Rican soldiers have played an important role in the success of the U.S. Army.

The 65th Infantry, comprised largely of Puerto Rican natives, played a particularly notable role in 20th Century military history. Also referred to as “The Borinqueneers,” the 65th was called to the front line during the Korean War, which came as a surprise due to the racism faced by Hispanics in the Army. Upon their arrival to the Korean Peninsula, they joined forces with the South Korean army to infiltrate the Pusan perimeter, block enemy escape routes, and fight off frequent attacks by Chinese troops. 

The 65th defeated an entire North Korean regiment, parts of the Chinese 26th Army, and enemy forces in the communist concentration area known as the “Iron Triangle.” Although the fighting would last until 1954 and result in over 700 casualties for the Borinqueneers, the group would be recognized with over 800 silver and bronze stars, making the regiment one of the most decorated in U.S. history.

Major General Juan César Cordero Dávila, one of the recipients of the Silver Star, was the commanding officer of the 65th regiment for the first half of the Korean War. A Puerto Rican native, Dávila put his life on the line to save and evacuate his wounded troops during a brutal enemy attack. That, however, would not be enough to stop Col. Chester B. DeGavre from relieving him of his post and replacing him with a non-Hispanic officer, who deflated morale and eventually weakened the 65th Infantry. 

President Barack Obama signed the Borinqueneers CGM Bill in honor of the 65th Infantry and their sacrifice.

History of Diversity in the U.S. Marine Corps

President John Adams signed an act officially on July 11, 1798 establishing the U.S. Marine Corps as an independent branch of the U.S. military.

Opha Mae Johnson was the first known woman to enlist in the Marines. She joined the Marine Corps Reserve in 1918, during America's involvement in World War I, officially becoming the first female Marine. From then until the end of World War I, 305 women enlisted in the Marines.

On May 5, 1942, the first group of 29 Navajo recruits was accepted at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. From 1942to 1945, some 375 to 420 Navajo trained as code talkers, part of about 540 Marines who were native Navajo speakers during World War II.

On June 1, 1942, the initial group of African American USMC recruits was admitted, but they were not immediately trained because separate, segregated facilities had not been completed. African American volunteers began their basic training in August at Montford Point in North Carolina, a satellite base to Marine Barracks, New River, later called Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. The first African American recruit to arrive in camp was Howard P. Perry on August 26, followed that day by 12 others.

The U.S. Marine Corps Women’s Reserve was announced and officially marks the birthday of Women Marines. The United States Marine Corps Women's Reserve was the World War II women's branch of the USMC Reserve. It was authorized by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on July 30, 1942, but the Marine Corps delayed its formation until February 13, 1943. Its purpose was to release officers and men for combat and to replace them with women in shore stations. The overall qualification standards for women who wished to volunteer for the Reserve were stringent. The age requirement for officer candidates was between 20 and 49, and a candidate had to be a college graduate or have a combination of two years of college and two years of work experience. The age requirement for those who wished to enlist was between 20 and 35, and they had to have completed at least two years of high school. The Reserve did not accept African-American or Japanese-American women during World War II, but did accept Native American women. 

On June 12, 1948 the Women's Armed Services Integration Act was signed by President Harry S. Truman, giving women permanent status in the Regular and Reserve forces of the Marine.

On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman issues Executive Order 9981 which abolished discrimination "on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin" in the United States Armed Forces. The executive order eventually led to the end of segregation in the services.

Private First-Class James Anderson Jr. was the first African-American U.S. Marine recipient of the Medal of Honor for heroism while serving in Vietnam. He received the Medal of honor for covering a grenade with his body to save his teammates on February 28, 1967 during Operation Prairie II.

A Brief History of Diversity in the United States Navy

There is a long tradition of Filipinos and Filipino American service in the US Navy.

Active recruitment of Philippine nationals began and continued even after the Philippines became a sovereign nation in 1946 through an arrangement between the government of the Philippines and the United States, which remains active to this day.

Until 1971, however, the Navy enforced a rank cap on Philippine nationals which restricted them to steward roles.

One of the most notable women in the history of the Navy is Rear Admiral Grace Hopper (1906–1992), an instrumental figure in the invention of the compiler and the development of computer science. Having already served in the Navy reserve for much of her adult life, she began active duty in 1966 as director of the Navy Programming Languages Group.

When she retired in 1986 at the age of 79, she was the oldest officer on active duty in the U.S. Navy. In 1996, the Navy named the USS Hopper in her honor, and in 2016, she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Joe R. Campa Jr. became the first Hispanic-American to attain the rank of Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, the highest enlisted rank in the Navy.

July 2014
Admiral Michelle Howard became both the first woman and first African-American to serve as Vice Chief of Naval Operations. She was also the first woman to attain the rank of four-star admiral in the Navy, and the first female graduate of the Naval Academy selected for flag rank.

Disclaimer: The program is being presented for educational purposes only. Any views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the official view, policy, or position of the American Bar Association.