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Graduation on the Horizon - Chris Sarno Memoir

With the promise of that graduation just a couple of weeks away, the boots who had made it through boot camp training thus far were fitted for dress greens. Civilian tailors fitted them for their greens, as well as for khaki shirts and field scarves (ties). "I loved looking at the Marine emblem on my dungaree blouse and gung-ho cap," Sarno admitted. "As mentally grueling as it was, I loved being a Marine. It was the final ending of my boyhood, and adventure here I come!"

After rifle range training, the last two weeks of boot camp were relatively easy. "There were classes on military subjects pertinent to the USMC mindset," recalled Sarno, "and the DI’s didn’t really scare us anymore, no matter how they yelled in our faces. We also took one more written test about boot camp subjects. The DI railed at our results. He screamed at us that as a platoon we had failed miserably on the test. He yelled, ‘One of you shitheads couldn’t even spell your name correctly. You are undoubtedly the dumbest bastards I’ve ever trained.’ But, we were the saltiest SOBs he had ever seen, too."

Every new Marine wanted to be "salty." This term often crops up in the Marine vocabulary, and it has different meaning depending on how it is being used in conversation. A salty Marine has the persona of what it takes to be a sharp-looking Marine. He is a seasoned Marine—somebody you can go to and depend on if you have a problem. Salty uniforms have a "not new" look to them. As each day of his boot training came to an end, Chris Sarno washed his cover (cap) every night until it was almost white rather than the herring bone green it was when he arrived at boot camp. Just days before graduation, his platoon was marching to noon chow. Drill instructor Gaunts noticed Sarno’s cover and said, "You salty little bastard." Just to remind him that he was still a boot, albeit a "salty" one, Gaunts pulled Sarno’s visor down over his eyes. "He said, ‘right face, forward march,’ recalled Sarno. "Now turn and march. Keep your goddamned head down, Sarno. Stop looking. Keep that head up erect. You’re at attention.’ And I was staggering all over the place. The guys were pushing me because I was screwing them up. Finally we got to the chow hall and Gaunts told me to restore my cover."

Boots worked up an appetite during their arduous training, so chow time was always welcome. They were marched to chow hall, then had to wait a half hour before they went in. "It was hurry up and wait," said Sarno. But the food was good and worth the wait. "We had potatoes morning, noon and night," he recalled. Occasionally there was steak and maybe pork chops. Meat loaf, baked liver and chicken legs were common fare. These were served along with peas, carrots, spinach and other vegetables. "We also got one slice of ice cream all wrapped up in white paper," Sarno recalled. "They made their own ice cream. It was sort of a cheap, milky-tasting ice cream, but we dove into it. We had milk and cereal in the morning." Hovering nearby were the drill instructors, making sure that their charges ate. There were no seconds in boot camp, so the boots ate the food that was piled onto their plates like they were starving. The Marine Corps had complete control over who ate what, too. "The fat guys—the overweight guys—had a special table where all they ate was lettuce and tomatoes and carrots," recalled Sarno. "It was called the rabbit table." Everyone at that table was on a strict diet of low calorie foods to help them lose weight. Sarno, a mere 129 pounds, was told by one of his junior DI’s that the Marine Corps intended to put twenty pounds on him. "Sure enough," Sarno said, "when I got out of boot camp, I weighed 150 pounds. And like I said, you only got one serving at breakfast, dinner, and supper."

As a result of his boot camp training, Chris Sarno had changed in ways other than physical appearance, too. "I always had a deep resentment for someone telling me what to do," he admitted. In boot camp, he had to sleep, eat, and speak only on command. The drill instructors had constantly told him what to do. "But I didn’t fight it," Sarno said. "I learned how to be disciplined, and I was better off for it."


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