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Close Combat Training - Chris Sarno Memoir

Close combat training involved instruction on how to assault a town with fire teams, night firing problems, and lots of lectures from combat officers. All of the training that the Marines had been through—whether tank men, artillery men, or grunts—culminated in a five-day night war under combat conditions at Camp Pendleton. "For 24 hours, there was no let up," Sarno recalled. "It was all about physical endurance. If you flopped on the side of the road, you would not go to Korea. We had to come through this thing as survivors."

"I remember that our objective was to assault an old Marine Raider camp. And it was hot. Hot as hell. We were allowed one canteen of water for the 24-hour period. They said, ‘You can drink any time that you want, but you’re not going to get another canteen until 24 hours,’ which would be at the night chow. Most of us drank it up fast. As I said, it was hot as hell. We had a pack and we were assaulting positions. We were close to dehydration." Overhead, Navy Corsairs were acting as enemy planes to force the men to dive into ditches and then get back up on the road. "I remember hitting the deck," Sarno said. "I thought, ‘Gee, I wish I could lay here for an hour. I don’t want to get up.’ But the whistle blew and they had to get back up on the road and continue to march. "I remember this big kid who was well over six feet tall," said Sarno. "He came from a rich background. The older guys didn’t like him and kept ranking on him. He was beside me, but when they blew the whistle, he didn’t get up. I jabbed him and told him to get up or they would give him shit. When he rolled over, I saw that he was foaming at the mouth. I called for the sergeant and told him that this guy wasn’t going to make it." The Corpsmen were called and they took him away. If he still wanted to go to Korea, he would have to go later with another company. "But I remember him," said Sarno. "A big smart kid built like a football player, yet he conked out."

The practice war was not easy on any of the men, especially if they weren’t dressed properly to endure it. Chris Sarno had a huge hole in his right boondocker where his big toe was. "I didn’t have a lot of dough, so I never got them repaired," he said. "I knew this five-day walk was coming up. ‘So what’, I thought. ‘I’ll walk through it.’ Well, the constant pressure on that right toe eventually caused a huge water blister. I had to keep going because I was not going to go back with another outfit." He kept hobbling along, and finally was able to get off his feet when it was evening and time for their first meal.

Keep in mind that the men only had one canteen of water, and the excessive heat that afternoon had caused many of them to drink all or most of the contents. The evening meal was not a hot meal—it was a box lunch. "They gave us an apple, a jellied-candy orange slice, and a peanut butter sandwich," recalled Sarno. "We were dying of thirst and they gave us a peanut butter sandwich. You know. They’re busting our balls. So we ate it, but now we were thirsty as a son of a bitch, and water was the only thing on our minds." The next day, the simulated war continued. Junior officers-in-training from Quantico took command of these combat outfits, and they were graded by a few senior combat officers who watched, but who didn’t say a word. "They were just observing and grading the young lieutenants as well as the enlisted men under their control," explained Sarno. "And we wanted water. It was hot and the road was dusty. There was nothing but mountains. Down this dusty road came what looked like a tar truck, but it was a water truck. They were just dusting the road down. It came out of nowhere. We broke ranks and stopped the truck dead in its tracks. We took off our helmets and filled up our helmets." The officers were taken by surprise, and Sarno said they were practically whipping their charges to keep them away from the water. The incident taught them all—officers and the ranks alike—that lack of discipline could cause them to break under certain conditions, such as lack of water. "We would do anything for water," he recalled. "The whole company just went berserk and had a ball drinking the water. The officers finally just stood aside, because they knew they had lost control of their men." Sarno said the incident with the water truck remains firmly implanted in his memory. "I always remember back to that day in California, and how much water meant to me."


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