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Miles Between Brothers - Chris Sarno Memoir

Now, however, thousands of miles would soon separate the Sarno brothers. Chris climbed aboard a four-engine TWA for his first plane ride, which took him to California, and Bud went back to Newport, Rhode Island, to finish Navy boot camp. Before completing boot camp training, Bud scored very high on his military test and was asked if he wanted to go to Officers Candidate School. He declined, and instead went on to attend "A" school at Jacksonville, Florida. He had his pick of man o’ war ships on which to serve, and chose the USS Antietam, which was berthed at Norfolk, Virginia following its return from duty in Korean waters. Bud Sarno spent three years in the Navy in the Atlantic Naval Command, with his home port being the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The Antietam also went to England for a few months during Bud’s tour of duty on it. While Bud finished boot camp and got further schooling in the Navy, his brother Chris would be getting acquainted with the west coast and undergoing combat training in anticipation of a tour of duty in Korea.

On the chartered flight to California, every seat on the plane was occupied by a Marine—some 300 of them. "There was a tech sergeant in charge of us," recalled Sarno, "and he ruled with an iron fist." After stopping briefly in Kansas City for refueling, the plane went on to its destination at San Diego. Looking below as the plane came in for a landing, Chris Sarno saw the beautiful Pacific coastline. "There were sun-kissed beaches galore, modern highways, cars up the ying-yang, exotic foliage way better than shitbird Yemasse, warm and dry sun all around and…Hollywood!!" The landscape was 100 percent different than that at Parris Island, he noted. "I loved this California base as huge as it was."

The Marines were taken from the airport to the rail station, where they boarded cattle car-type trailers that dropped them off at the receiving barracks at Main Side Pendleton. Their first impression of the military base was that of a wooden World War II barrack painted with faded yellow and black trim, squad bays that held a whole platoon, and forty racks for sleeping. "We were there for at least ten days of casual duties again," Sarno recalled. Newly arrived (and soon-to-be departing) military personnel were often placed in "casual companies" while awaiting further orders. The barracks to which Sarno and the others were assigned was across the street from the base brig. "It was great, as the drum and bugle detachment always put on a daily rehearsal of their inspiring field music," recalled Sarno. "Casual company was the direct opposite of ‘nervous in the service’ boot environment. We had base liberty every night, our own fire watch at night, and morning roll call to do various clean-up chores all over the base." There was good chow, and as was standard in stateside barracks, there was the opportunity to take a long hot shower before taps.

Two memorable things happened during the ten days that Sarno and the other Marines were assigned to casualty company. Some five days into their stay, one of the Marines began to moan and groan in the middle of the night. Rather than eliciting sympathy from his fellow rack mates, his moans and writhing incurred their wrath. As the moaning got longer and louder, the NCO in charge finally went over to the Marine to see what the problem was. The moaning Marine was not just having a bad dream that night. He was having a severe attack of appendicitis. "This Marine claimed his stomach was hurting him," recalled Sarno. "He was carted off to the base dispensary. Later we learned that the poor kid had to have an emergency appendectomy."

The second memorable event was the company’s first liberty in California. "I took off like a raped ape to Long Beach for the dance hall," recalled Sarno. "There were plenty of one-punch clubs and a seashore amusement park, just like home. Two other buddies and I got there fast in order to get a room before the horde arrived. We had a big night meal in a nice restaurant, and we danced some. There were nice looking bimbos, a hotel room, and beer as long as your dough lasted. We bought beers and although we tried hard, we didn’t score. We went back to the hotel, and the friggin’ room was standing room only with our other barracks crowd. There were five guys out on the bed, others asleep on the deck, and two in the closet out like lights. I had to spend the night in an all-night movie theater that was filled with drafts of billowing smoke rings. Some liberty." The party-weary Marines arrived back on the base in time for morning reveille at 5 a.m. "We had 20 minutes to shit, shower or shave before standing formation for roll call," Sarno said. "We were half on the wrapper shuffling to get the sleep out of our eyes when we spotted a stranger amongst us. He was a civilian dressed like Beau Brummel—real natty. He was in a daze among guys like us. We were standing at rigid attention as the Gunny went up and down the ranks. He came onto this interloper and bellowed, ‘Who the fuck are you, and what the fuck are you?’ We all laughed like hyenas. When a couple of liberty risks up in Los Angeles missed the last bus back to San Diego, this queer picked them up in his Cadillac. They forced him to drive them to the barracks, and then they let him sack out, too. Once knowing what these clowns had to do to make roll call, it was okay by all of us, even the Gunny." No one went on report for being AWOL that morning. The "interloper in the fancy duds" ate morning chow with the Marines, and then went on his way.


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