Camacho slept for two full days at the aid station. He had several minor wounds and was dehydrated and exhausted after three days of fighting and no sleep. González was sitting on a stretcher with a guitar on his lap playing melancholic songs that transported Camacho back home, to Lajas.
He dreamed of when he was a barefoot kid playing on dirt roads with nothing but a stick. He dreamed of the war coming and he rushing to the recruiting station just to be turned down several times. “You are too skinny muchacho. How can you possibly carry a rifle? Put some weight on and comeback.” He gained weight, and in the middle of a German submarine campaign aimed at starving Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.
Camacho was resourceful. He knew where to find tubers. The monte had always provided, a mount of Yucca here; Yams of all kinds there; eels from the creek. What no one would eat he would. He worked as a messenger boy, as a porter, as anything people needed. With every penny he made he bought lard. And any meal he ate he topped with lard. He gained weight fast. He travelled to Cabo Rojo to enlist as he had tried all the recruiting stations in Lajas. It took him all day.
After a day of health and fitness test and officer asked: “Name?”
“You are not a boy anymore. Full name!”
The officer looked at the record for a minute and then looked up at him: “Welcome to the U.S. Army Private Camacho. You leave in four days for Tortuguero. Get your personal affairs in order and report back here on Friday at 0400.”
“Sir excuse me, when…”
“4:00 A.M. private, 4:00 A.M.”
González stopped playing his guitar interrupting Camacho’s daydreaming. “Hey you are awake sergeant- welcome back- you slept for two full days.”
Camacho sat on his stretcher and started looking around for his uniform and gear. A nurse approached him and told him that he was not cleared to leave the station yet- that he needed rest. González agreed but he knew Camacho needed to leave the station.
On the way to the tent González told Camacho that while they were in the aid station Cordero had ordered the whole First Battalion to attack Kelly again. Even the Division’s commander was there to witness the attack. A full artillery barrage, a tank company, and the whole battalion, and they got chewed up by the Chinese. The Chinese no longer contested Kelly. They simply let company after company take the crest and then tear them to pieces with artillery. They Regiment lost over five hundred men dead and wounded trying to take and hold Outpost Kelly. 500 men for an useless outpost impossible to defend.
Camacho hurried into the tent and opened his foot locker. He grabbed his side arm, a Colt 45, 1911 Model. He walked to Cordero’s Command Post. González kept talking but Camacho was not listening. Cordero had to answer for this. On his way to the C.P. Camacho thought about Sergeant Guilloti. Back in 1950 he had died from “friendly” fire. He didn’t even step in Korea proper. He received a shot in the back as soon as the troop transport lowered its rampart. A soldier claimed his weapon had discharged accidentally. But Guilloti had been an abusive sergeant who mistreated his men. And the soldier who “accidentally” discharged his weapon and killed him had been a target of Guilloti’s rage.
Maybe it was an accident, maybe not. It did not matter. The situation was chaotic when the 65th made it to Korea. The Americans had broken out of the Pusan perimeter and were in full pursuit of the North Korean armies. There was no front and American units found themselves going up and down, west and east, finding and eliminating the enemy. No, there was no time for inquiries so the shooter was transferred to another company and Corporal Camacho was promoted to Squad Sargent. Camacho hated his first promotion to Sargent happened under these circumstances.
But this was different. Guilloti had been abusive but he never got anyone killed. Camacho thought that Cordero was responsible for all those dead, for a fucking useless outpost!
He made his way into Cordero’s tent.
“What the hell are you doing in my tent Sargent?” said a voice in a Southern accent.
“I’m looking for Colonel Cordero sir!”
“He is gone son- count yourself lucky” said Colonel De Gavre in the most condescending of tones. “There are going to be changes around here. We are not in the business of losing wars. You have been pampered by Cordero. It is his fault you have grown weak. He treated you like children, not like American soldiers. We can still make men out of you, maybe, even good soldiers.”
Camacho could not believe his ears. What gave the new Colonel the impression they needed to be turned into men, into soldiers. He thought about reaching for his side arm. But González interrupted his thought. “Yes sir. Thank you, sir!”
“One more thing boys. You need to shave off your mustaches. Prove that you are men in combat and you may grow them again. I already issue the order. By the end of the day you will have shaved off your mustache.”
“Yes sir” said González while grabbing Camacho by the arm and walking him outside.
“Sargent you need let it go. Cordero is gone.”
“It is not Cordero. De Gavre wants to humiliate us for losing a battle. You were there. Are we cowards? Are we boys?”
“It does not matter Sargent. We will grow it back.”
“I know. I know.”
It had been a rude awakening for Camacho. The regiment had been his family since he joined in 1942. He had been in Korea for two years and sometimes he even felt as home in the field.
But they were not home. They were far from it.