“It is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves;
for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give all of you into our hands…
So David triumphed over Goliath with a sling and a stone;
without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.”
– 1 Samuel 47-49
GUNFIGHT AT SALÓN BORICUA
Vidal Santiago Díaz was the proud owner of the Salón Boricua barbershop. He was also a committed Nationalist and the personal barber of Pedro Albizu Campos. On October 31, 1950, when he heard that the U.S. National Guard had surrounded Albizu Campos’s home in San Juan, Vidal called the office of Attorney General Geigel Polanco and offered to mediate the surrender of Albizu Campos.
Polanco never responded. Instead, forty US National Guardsmen and Insular Policemen surrounded the barber shop and attacked with revolvers, rifles, carbines, and a Browning M1919A4 machine gun. They set up a line of fire on Calle Colton, and started shooting at the barbershop.
The gunfight lasted three hours. Over a dozen radio stations rushed to the scene, for a live broadcast of the entire battle. It was the first live island-wide radio broadcast in the history of Puerto Rico, with reporters from San Juan (WIAC, WITA), Ponce (WPRB) Arecibo (WCMN) and ten other towns. Even Mayagüez (WECW) sent a news crew, form the other of the island. At one point Luis Enrique “Bibí” Marrero from Radio WIAC, who had grown up with Vidal in Santurce, got close enough to talk to him.
“Oye Vidal,” he yelled.
“It’s me, Bibí. How you doing in there?”
“I’m all fucked up.”
“¡Coño Vidal, te ha’ hecho famoso! Every radio station on the island is here.”
“I got a radio too. It’s got all this American crap.”
“Do you need anything?”
“Yeah, a ticket to Cuba.”
“Maybe we can arrange it. How many of you are -”
But the National Guard started shooting again. The battle was ferocious; everyone estimated that at least twenty Nationalists were hidden and firing from the barber shop.
A lieutenant grabbed a bullhorn and shouted toward them.
“Vidal Santiago…we don’t want to hurt you.”
“Tell that to my leg, pendejo,” yelled Vidal. “You shot it pretty good.”
“You and your friends…come out with your hands up, and no harm will come to you.”
“I don’t have any friends.”
“What you do have, is one minute. Come out or we’re coming in.”
But three Molotov cocktails sailed out from the second floor of the barber shop, and the battle raged again.
National Guard and policemen take cover from the barber's gunfire
Vidal fired a M3A1 submachine gun from several windows, and even appeared like a madman at the front door. They shot his leg, they shot his thumb off, they shot three fingers off his left hand – but like a brave bull goaded to renewed savagery, Vidal fought ceaselessly, against all odds. The gunfight continued and hundreds of Puerto Ricans watched breathlessly, as if it were an action film.
After three hours, the Browning machine gun had vaporized the barber chairs and shattered every mirror. A staircase finally collapsed on Vidal’s head, and the gunfire stopped.
The battle of Salón Boricua was over.
A squad of soldiers secured the barber shop and were shocked to find only one man under all the rubble, instead of twenty. How could one barber hold off forty heavily armed soldiers and cops for three hours?
The soldiers took no chances. They shot him in the head at point blank range and hauled him out of the shop. As they dragged Vidal’s corpse into the street with radio announcers swarming all around them, the soldiers had one last shock.
The corpse opened its eyes.
Vidal was still alive. The radio reporters went into a frenzy announcing the news all over Puerto Rico. In that very instant, when he opened his eyes, Vidal Santiago Díaz became the second-most famous Nationalist in Puerto Rican history – second only to Albizu Campos himself.
He was the barber who defied an empire, with a bullet in his brain.
An eyewitness account of the Gunfight at Salón Boricua, and the titanic battle waged by this one barber, is given in…