Camacho and González sat anxiously on the first of two rows of chairs in a cold room in Korea. They were the only non-commissioned officers in a group of twenty-two men going through a court martial for cowardice before the enemy and refusal to obey a superior’s order.
The prosecutor had presented his case and called for these soldiers to receive the maximum sentences possible. An example had to be made lest these acts spread throughout the whole U.S. command.
The defense counsel, Lieutenant Stevens, disagreed. He approached the five members of the court and spoke to the military judge directly.
“Sir, we have a tendency as Anglo Saxons to consider these people the same as ourselves. Actually, they are Latin American in temperament, not war-like but easy going.”
He pointed at the men.
“I have been with these men since December of 1951. My experience as a junior high teacher prepared me to deal with them. They are emotionally equivalent to the child in junior high. As such, I urge you to think of them as people with a twelve-year-old emotional level which definitely must not be led in the light of continental troops. I truthfully believe you must consider these people not as continental but as Puerto Ricans. We should show them mercy, the mercy that a benevolent father shows to his children, even, no, strike that, especially when they are weak.”
The members of the tribunal nodded their heads in agreement.
González stood up and interrupted the defense counsel as he was about to continue.
“Sir, that is nonsense. We have proven who we are. The lieutenant doesn’t speak for us. We are men and we will be treated like men. Try us like men!”
The military judge ordered him to be seated. He remained standing. Camacho, now standing next to him added:
“You did not treat us like men in the battlefield and you are not treating us like men here. We are not your children! We are men.”
“Very well then- you will be treated like men. I instruct the members of this court to disregard Lieutenant Stevens’ comments and find these men fully capable and fully responsible for their actions.”
The court found all the accused guilty of willful disobedience of a superior officer’s command to return to a forward position and misbehavior before the enemy by running away. Most of the men received two-years in military jail sentences, González and Camacho were sentenced to five years in prison. The sentences also included total forfeiture of pay and dishonorable discharges.
As the sentences were read, each man was taken away by military police. Captains Jackson and Cronkhite, who had been called as witnesses by the defense, felt deeply ashamed. They knew what these men had endured on the battlefield and under DeGavre’s racist policies. They knew these men had fought bravely until it was no longer possible. They knew the Borinqueneers were brave men. As the first of the men walked by them, the captains stood in attention and saluted the men.
Camacho was the last one escorted out of the room.
The captains watched him walk with his pride and courage still intact, conducting himself with the outmost dignity.
He sat in the back of a truck like he had done hundreds of times, still leading his men, and peering through the flapping green canvas.
As the truck disappeared in the Korean fog Jackson told Cronkhite,
“there goes the best Puerto Rican soldier… victim of the greatest act of injustice.”