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Home Leave - Chris Sarno Memoir

A Greyhound bus took Chris Sarno further and further away from Parris Island and the hated DI’s, and closer and closer to his home and his beloved family near Boston. While waiting to change buses in the New York City terminal, Sarno was able to put some of his newfound confidence and skills-under-pressure to work. An elderly man was having an epileptic seizure, trashing around on the floor of the terminal and frothing at the mouth. Sarno had seen this same type of medical condition with one of the boots on Parris Island. "Not one of the bystanders were doing anything to assist this poor fellow," recalled Sarno. "I took immediate action by loosening his tie. Next, I asked for a wooden pencil and managed to insert it under his tongue to prevent him from swallowing his tongue. The New York police arrived and took him away. When one of the officers asked who had helped the man with the seizure, I told him that I had. He publicly gave his praise and said, ‘Thank God a Marine was on the scene to help save this man’s life.’ It was a nice feeling being of assistance as I moved on to board the bus to Boston." Just like the day he had arrived on Parris Island, the music on the bus included the Perry Como hit, "If." Sarno said, "To this day I associate my entrance into the USMC and those two bus trips in early 1951 with Perry’s hit tune." The trip from Parris Island to Boston took almost 20 hours. He arrived at Park Square on a cold March morning, and took the subway/bus system to his boyhood home.

At 5:30 in the morning, Chris Sarno tapped on the door of his parents’ home. His father opened the door to a young Marine wearing a sharp green uniform. "I remember him opening the door," reminisced Sarno. "I put my arms around him and he embraced me. I kissed him on the cheek, and I broke up crying." For Chris, he was on a new plateau in life. He had accomplished something that he never dreamed he could. "Nobody in my family had ever experienced what I had just been through," he said. "But when I cried, my father didn’t say anything. He just patted me as if he understood. Yet he had never been in the Armed Forces." This tearful moment was short-lived, and just between the senior and junior Chris Sarnos. When his mother realized who was at the door, she came rushing into her son’s arms. "She had tears of joy and was so happy I arrived," he recalled. "There was no big party or hullabaloo—just an intimate demonstration of family love and affection." The fact that his mother was happy because her son was finally home made the Marine happy, too. "My mother was very uptight about me being in the Marine Corps," Chris explained. His mother’s hope was that her young son/Marine would get stationed at the Boston Navy Yard. "But I knew better," Sarno said. "Korea was for me. But even when I was in combat, I never wrote home about it. My mother would have worried too much. She was the only family member to write me and send items to me on a dependable timetable."

His tour of duty with the Fleet Marine Force would still be months down the road, however. For now, he enjoyed his time on leave by taking in all the movies in the big Boston theaters, and by eating at the best restaurants in Boston. "My favorite restaurant was Peroni’s, where the fried clams were an Epicurean delight," he said. "That place in downtown Boston was always packed. I would sit up in the raised part of the flooring up back, always ordering the clams and a small bottle of champagne cocktail which would fill the glass twice." It was wartime, and, just like he had admired uniformed World War II veterans during the previous war, Chris Sarno now received his fair share of looks of admiration as a uniformed Marine. "I was one sharp-looking Marine decked out in dress greens," he said, "and the times I was in public, you bet I was in uniform."

One weekend, Chris was joined at a restaurant by his uniformed brother, Bud. "My mother knew in advance the day I was coming home on leave, so she moved fast," explained Sarno. "She was politically connected and had someone clear it for my brother Bud to get a weekend liberty while still undergoing his boot training in the US Navy at New Port, Rhode Island. Sure enough, the two of us shared a weekend in the Boston hot spots." When Chris joined the Marine Corps, Bud was attending the University of Massachusetts. Having discovered that his older brother Chris had decided to give service to his country during wartime, Bud wanted to join the Marines, too. But he was only 17 years old, and as such he needed a parent’s consent—which his mother flatly refused to give. "My mother had a brother on Guadalcanal in World War II," said Chris. "He told her just how tough the Marines had it on that friggin’ island, with tremendous KIAs and WIAs. My mother saw nothing but death as a Marine. But she slowly relented in her refusal to allow Bud to enlist, telling him that she would sign for him if he would join the Navy rather than the Marines—which he did." For Sarno, about to depart for further Marine Corps training in California, it was great to spend a couple of days with his brother. "During our high school years," he said, "We were almost like twins—always together playing baseball, basketball, outdoor ice hockey, and sandlot football."


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