In 1945, Ñin Negrón left the 65th Infantry Regiment on an honorable discharge. For his fighting against Naziism in Central Europe, Africa and the Pacific, he was lauded as a hero. In 1950 he found himself in prison sentenced to sixty-five years for fighting for the independence of Puerto Rico. His house was raided and his father, Ché, thrown in prison in retribution for Ñin's involvement in the Nationalist uprising of October, 1950. Ché was a member of the Independence Party (PIP), which in no way fosters violence. When police tore down his Puerto Rican flag, he painted a large one across the front of his house, in defiance of continued FBI harassment.
When camping on Ché's fifty-acre ranch, we found that everybody knew Ché and respected him, from the local banker to the público driver, to school children who pointed him out to us on our first visit. A sturdy man in his eighties, he welcomed us by climbing a grapefruit tree for a luscious sun-ripened fruit. Since he knew no English, our exchange of greeting each day was a "¡Fuerte!" as he flexed his muscles. In 1983 we attended the sixty-fifth wedding anniversary of Ché and Rosa. Though not coffee drinkers, we could never resist Rosa's coffee, homegrown, roasted in the cocina and flavored with milk fresh from their two cows.
Ñin's record in the army had been good until the day he took off, without permission, to visit Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos at Columbus Hospital, New York. Don Pedro greeted him coolly, seeing him dressed in the uniform of the United States Army. But later, as both faced prison sentences, Albizu gave him a warm hug. "You know me, now?" grinned Ñin. The visit to the hospital constituted a serious misdemeanor and he was thrown briefly into the brig.
Ñin never questioned his role in the war. But being in an all Puerto Rican regiment, he became aware of Puerto Rico's colonial status. As he looks back on his war experiences, he recalls how soldiers were jailed for giving bread to German children and that in later years our government was shipping bombs to Germany so that they could re-arm against Russia.
The war was his university of life. Reading and discussions increased his awareness of world problems. He saw indications of Puerto Rican rebellion against U.S. colonialism. When President Truman went to Heidelberg, Germany, there were demonstrations and threats to kill him. Bolívar Pagán, Puerto Rican Resident Commissioner, was so unpopular because of his demand for more Puerto Rican soldiers that he was afraid to appear before Puerto Rican troops.
By 1947 the increasing popularity of Albizu Campos alarmed our government, and plans were laid to imprison him as well as other leaders of the independence movement. At that point Albizu, who himself had once served as an officer in World War I, instigated the training of cadets for self-defense against the United States. The cadets could at least demonstrate to the world their determination to fight for freedom. In 1950, as arrests increased, Nationalists and other independentistas went into action in Naranjito, Ponce, Jayuya, Mayagüez, Utuado and Arecibo. The "revolution" was quickly put down and Ñin, who had led the troops in Naranjito, faced prison along with Albizu Campos and some thousand others.
Ñin still marches in his cadet uniform of white pants and black shirt in patriotic observances. He sees hope for independence by arousing world opinion against U.S. colonialism. He sees the importance of getting the truth out to the world. Already Venezuela and Mexico are adding their voices in favor of independence, as world opinion, through the United Nations, swings towards decolonization of countries not yet liberated. In time the United States will have to yield, Ñin believes.
Loyal to the Nationalist Party of Albizu Campos, Ñin serves as treasurer. Though now small in numbers, the Nationalist Party carries on an educational program and organizes patriotic demonstrations.
A plaque presented to Ñin by Concepción de Gracia, founder of PIP, reads: "For your unfailing struggle, for your presence in most difficult moments to promote the ideal of a free and just country, we consider you our inspiration."