By Owen L. Conner, Curator
As International Beer Day celebrates the global appreciation of one of the world’s most beloved beverages, it should come as no surprise that even the Marine Corps has their own historical connections (and preferences) for beer.
From 1927 until the 1960s, one beer was closely associated to Marines and sailors of the fleet serving in the Caribbean – the Cuban beer Hatuey. First brewed in 1927, in the town of Santiago de Cuba, the beer quickly became an important part of Cuban and island culture. The Santiago Brewing Company was owned by the famous rum-making Ron Bacardi Company. The success of the Hatuey brand spread across the Caribbean and into Florida with the sale of over 12 million cases in their heyday in 1959.
Ironically, the first known Marine Corps mention of the island beer appears in Leatherneck magazine in the early 1930s, when the United States was still enforcing the 18th Amendment in Prohibition. Despite the ban on stateside alcohol, Marines serving at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba apparently had no problem obtaining and consuming Hatuey beer. Their references to this activity were not so subtly “hidden” in magazine columns written by a Marine named “Por Hatuey,” and were frequently mentioned in the topical magazine reports on activities of the Marines serving there. During World War II, members of the 13th Defense Battalion (also based in Cuba) thought so highly of the beer that they even formed the “Chief Hatuey Drinking Club”. The club was so enjoyable that it led to a letter to Leatherneck magazine
(in 1952) from SSgt A. L. Trojan looking to reconnect with his drinking companions from 1942-1944. In a series of 1950s articles on sea duty by retired LtGen Bernard Trainor, the officer recounted his memories of the beer: Equally attractive to the sailors [and Marines] was the beer… Hatuey… It was a local brew with the profile of an Indian on the label. Referred to as the “one-eyed Indian” it was the preferred beverage of the fleet. It was also well known when drinking it, if the Indian suddenly appeared to have two eyes, it was time to start drinking more and faster!
Within the collection of the Museum there are several artifacts documenting Marines’ connections to the beer. First Sergeant Joseph Zembroski, who served aboard the USS Little Rock, carefully placed this Hatuey beer label (below) in his personal scrapbook. Famed Marine Artist Donald Dickson took the time to paint the delightful depiction of a tropical Marine enjoying his “Cerveza Hatuey” (above).
Author: Owen L. Conner
Owen L. Conner is the Uniforms and Heraldry Curator at the National Museum of the Marine Corps