Pfc. Dave Rydberg served at Guantanamo Cuba during the revolution in ’58

Former Pfc. Dave Rydberg of Venice was a 19-year-old Marine recruit who wound up at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo, Cuba in 1958 during the Cuban Revolution.

“I spent two years on base. I really enjoyed my time there,” he said.

“They were still fighting the revolution on the other side of the fence when I got there. Fidel Castro had most of his forces in the mountains not too far from Guantanamo,” he recalled. “We could hear them fighting and sometimes we saw them.

“Every time I had a free moment I went down to the gym and checked out a basketball. I did that a few times and finally the sergeant in charge of the gym asked me if I would like to work for him,” Rydberg said.

“The sergeant said if I went to work for him he could get me promoted to lance corporal. I thought that sounded pretty good to me. So I took the job and it was great. Mostly I just sat around and checked out sports equipment for other Marines. I could go to the mess hall whenever I wanted to.

“Then one day the sergeant came in and told me he wanted me to drive him over to the Navy officers’ quarters on base,” he said. We got there and he met this lady who came to the door. We were invited in. The sergeant told me to stay in the living room and read the newspaper. He disappeared down a hallway with the lady.

“I was reading the paper when a couple of MPs came through the front door and escorted me outside. Moments later they escorted the sergeant out in handcuffs. I got busted back to private first class and I got 10 days in the brig.

“The same time I was in the brig the sergeant was in there, too. But he was in a much more secure section from which he escaped. How he escaped, I don’t know. The next thing I heard my sergeant had gotten hooked up with Castro.

“A short time after that, Castro’s troops got in a big battle with Fulgencio Batista’s military in Caimanera, the town behind our base. Bullets were flying and you could see the smoke coming from the town.

Rydberg looked like he was having a great time in Cuba behind the wheel of a Jeep. Photo provided

“Right about then, here comes a couple of gun boats sailing right through the waters of our base. They must have gotten permission from our people to do that,” Rydberg said. “They were headed for the fighting at Caimanera.

“My sergeant who joined Castro, was waiting for the gun boats further up along the bay with a recoilless rifle. He punched holes in both boats along their water lines with his rifle and they nearly sank. They had to return to our base before they went down.

“The sergeant’s battle with the gun boats made him some kind of a folk hero with the Castro regime. After the war Castro appointed him chief of police in Havana. He only held the post a couple of years, then Castro removed him after the dictator had a falling out with the U.S. government.

“By then my sergeant had had enough of Fidel and Cuba and decided to return to the U.S. and turn himself in,” Rydberg said. “He was tried, sentenced and I don’t know how many years he spent in Leavenworth Penitentiary.

“The only other story I have during my time in the Marines is when seven or eight of us decided to go over the fence into Guantanamo City and party.

“It was during the May Day Celebration in 1960. At night you could hear the Spanish music for miles,” Rydberg recalled. “A bunch of us decided to go party with the Cubans. We took our civilian clothes, put them in bags and left the bags along the fence surrounding the base.

“We weren’t camouflaged very well. We were wearing Marine Corps khaki pants, white T-shirts and we all had burr hair cuts.

“It was 11 p.m. when we climbed over the fence, switched clothes, put our uniforms back in the bags and left them along the fence. Then we took the last bus off the base to Guantanamo City.

“We went into town and watched ‘em dancing in the streets for a while. Then we found a bar. It was there this pretty lady came up to me, wrapped her arms around my neck and told me to buy her a drink. We ended up in this little room together.

“The next thing I knew the door busted open and there were a bunch of Castro’s men armed with machine-guns. They took us and put us in jail in Guantanamo City. We were in real trouble because we had to be back on the base by 4 a.m.

“The corporal, the highest ranking guy in our group, who could speak Spanish, got word to an attorney who worked on the base that we were in jail. The attorney came down and got us out of jail.

“We took a taxi back to base, put our uniforms on, climbed back over the fence, ran to the barracks, jumped in the shower and just made it in time for roll call.

“Man, you talk about close. That’s as close as it gets!”

Name: David Gerald Rydberg
D.O.B: 31 Dec. 1938
Hometown: Somerville, N.J.
Currently: Venice, Fla.
Entered Service: 6 March 1958
Discharged: 16 March 1962
Rank: Pfc.
Unit:  2nd Topograpic Company, Flet Marine Force, Atlantic
Commendations: Marksman Badge, Rifle Caliber .30, Good Conduct Medal

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017 and is republished with permission.

Click here to view Rydberg’s collection in the Library of Congress. 

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Click here to search Veterans Records and to obtain information on retrieving lost commendations.

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