Remembrances of a Hero
By Dialogo October 23, 2012
After Diálogo published an interview in early 2012 with retired Colombian Army General Álvaro Valencia Tovar, one of few Korean War veterans still alive, the story resonated with many readers. Among them was retired Master Sergeant Raúl Salaverría, also a veteran of the Korean War with the U.S. Army’s Puerto Rican 65th Infantry Regiment.
Don Raúl, as he is known, sat down with Diálogo during the summer of 2012 to share a few of his vivid memories from more than 60 years ago.
In early 1951, a then 19-year-old enlisted officer first knew of Gen. Valencia Tovar onboard the Allied ship that crossed the Pacific to pick up the Colombian Battalion from the Port of Cartagena. Although they did not meet in that opportunity, Don Raúl recalls hearing of then-Captain Valencia because “he was a very prominent soldier who rightfully earned his recognition due to his experience, military knowledge and ease of languages – Cpt. Valencia Tovar was one of the few officers that spoke English as well as his native Spanish fluently, and this facilitated communication during the war.”
Called “The Borinqueneers”, the 65th Infantry Regiment where Don Raúl fought, was composed mainly of Puerto Rican servicemen, among them 11 other of his family members. “I had siblings, first cousins, second cousins, uncles and even my father was a platoon sergeant in the heavy mortar company.”
Private Salaverría was assigned to the M Company 31st Infantry Regiment’s 7th Infantry Division, to which – unbeknownst to him, the Colombian Battalion had also been assigned. “I found out later that it was because I was one of the few Puerto Ricans to understand English and I knew a lot about mortars; I was also an Infantry man and knew a lot about heavy weaponry,” he says.
“I met Gen. Valencia when I was assigned to Pork Chop Hill for three months as a forward observer; from there, I could see Old Baldy to the west, so I was in a strategic observation point,” recalled the 21-year-veteran. “Old Baldy” was the nickname the Allies gave Hill 266, after artillery and mortar fire destroyed the trees on its crest. It was the highest point on a strategically-important ridge that dominated the Korean terrain in three directions. It was located in west-central Korea, where the Battle of Old Baldy took place from June 1952 to March 1953 – and coincidentally where the Colombian Battalion stood out for its valor on March 23.
“About 3,000 Chinese troops attacked the ridge and the Colombians –even with the support of the 7th Division, were forced to abandon it,” said Don Raúl. “I made the call to request flares, so they could see the enemy during the night combat. But the Colombians were steadfast in their positions until they were forced out by the enemy’s push. They were highly decorated for their brave struggle that day.”
Private Salaverría’s responsibilities there included watching for enemy movement especially when the artillery captain was not there. “I would see that the enemy was moving forward and request support fire when it was needed. This request for fire took me closer to Cpt. Valencia.”
“I communicated with him directly by radio operator. One night, I called for support fire because I saw that the enemy – a group of about 20 or 30 of them, was moving toward us. I had to get authorization from the S3 for support, so that night I spoke to Cpt. Valencia and he gave me the OK. “We would remain vigilant ahead of them. We gave them support if they needed it and they would do the same.”
After his participation in the Korean War, Don Raúl went on to fight in Vietnam. He came back to New York as a Chief Enlisted Instructor with the U.S. Army National Guard, and retired from the U.S. Army in 1970.
“I always wondered about Cpt. Valencia, and heard years later that he had been promoted to general. Then I happened to read the article on Diálogo magazine…” And the all the memories of those years came back vividly.
*José E. Cardona, Training Specialist at WHINSEC acted on behalf of Diálogo to make this article possible.