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Family Background - Chris Sarno Memoir

To understand how different cultures can clash, one need only look as far back as the lives of Chris Sarno’s parents, Christopher John and Florence Shanahan Sarno. Florence Shanahan grew up in Medford, and during her senior year at Medford High, she was courted by Christopher John Sarno, who was a sophomore. He was a three-year All-State high school athlete in football, basketball, and baseball. Chris and Florence, who were very popular, did all the dances and enjoyed the "roaring twenties." After high school, Chris attended Fordham University in New York City. At that time, Fordham was a prestigious Jesuit college. Sarno, who excelled at all three sports in his freshman year, was looked upon to be Fordham’s up and coming star for the future. In turn, he loved the regimentation of a Jesuit education: morning Mass and a structured daily Catholic regimentation. His future seemed bright on a professional level as an athlete in New York City.

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In the summer, he returned to Medford, where he continued to court his Irish sweetheart. This courtship was one of much chagrin to both of their families. Florence came from an Irish clan that abhorred Italians, and the Sarno family was just as parochial in their dislike of the Irish. However, Florence and Chris were passionately in love despite both families’ unrest, and they decided to marry. Once the wedding date was set, Chris’s parents threw all of his clothing out in the yard. Nevertheless, before his sophomore year, Christopher John Sarno married Florence. The couple went to housekeeping in New York City, residing in the Rose Hill area near campus. Looking back on his childhood, their son—the subject of this Korean War memoir--noted that the discord between his Irish/Italian heritage was beyond his and his siblings’ control. "My mother never visited my father’s house after they married—it was that bitter," he said. "The Irish were brazenly outspoken, while I saw how quiet and gentle the Italians were.  With all due respect to the intermarriage between Irish and Italians, that holy union produced the most beautiful babies the Vatican smilingly looked upon as the vanguard of the propagation of the Roman Catholic Church.  Indeed, the Vatican has always been the firm, and now respected conduit that holds the Irish and Italian Americans forevermore.  I was virulently brought up as Irish-Catholic.  The US Marine Corps is overloaded with good Marines from this fiery and passionate bloodline."

Christopher Edward Sarno was born in the Jewish Memorial Hospital in New York, New York, on January 25, 1932. One of seven children, he was known by his family and friends as "Junior" from day one throughout his childhood and youth. (As of the day he arrived home from Korea, however, family and friends referred to him as Chris.) Not long after he was born, his father was called into the chancellor’s office at Fordham during the Spring of 1932. He was told that he was being dismissed from Fordham for being married. "In those unyielding days," explained Chris and Florence’s son, "you had to be single to attend a Jesuit University. My father bent the rules, and someone ratted him out. I truly believe this entry in his life had later ramifications for his being a wage earner. He could have been someone in sports—people all over Medford marveled at my Dad’s prowess on the gridiron—but he was left to mediocrity for the remainder of his life." In 1942, Mr. Sarno became a regular police officer on the Medford City police force. He made a career as a police officer, serving honorably on the force for 40 years.

Although the elder Sarno worked and always had a job, there were times when the bill collectors knocked at the door. "My mother was a fighter to provide for her brood," recalled Chris "Junior" Sarno. "She was fearless. She did yeoman tasks to give us tight family ties. My mother was a Trojan in running the house, eventually going to work during the World War Two years, making radios for the US Navy. During the war, American women were recruited to work outside the home structure for the first time. Mom loved it, and she made decent wages, too," said Sarno.


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