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Pendleton Complete - Chris Sarno Memoir

The long months of Marine training were finally over. With the five-day practice war behind him, Chris Sarno was just about ready for overseas duty in Korea. "That training at Pendleton was more severe to me than Korea ever thought of being when I look back on it," he said. "There were more goddamn hills in California than we could imagine, and they were tough. Even now I think I don’t want any part of hills. At Camp Pendleton, there was always one more hill before we got back to the company area." He said that he was part of the first company to go through the five-day practice war for the 12th draft. "There were four or five other companies waiting for us to come in before it was their turn. They wanted to see what we looked like by the time we had completed the course. We looked ragtag," he admitted. But before the company went over the crest of the hill, the officers halted the formation and told them to spruce up. "We’re coming in sharp," they said. "Let’s look good." The company marched to the hilltop in front of the company barracks and then went through the final inspection arms command, where they were required to run the bolt back and then finish up with inspection arms. "Now you push your bolt back and then you pull the trigger," explained Sarno. "We all pulled the trigger. But one guy had a live round. It went right over his left shoulder. The instructor said, ‘Get that guy’s name. He’s restricted until we get on the boat.’ He wasn’t going to get any liberty. He let a live round go off. He didn’t clear his weapon. That’s how easy it is for somebody to kill you."

The remaining two weeks at Pendleton saw the Marines practicing more judo on the mats, taking a bayonet refresher course, and learning how to neutralize buildings at Combat Town Course. The latter was a squad (13 Marines) assault problem that consisted of less than ten wooden shacks, with a few of them being two stories high. "We broke off into the four fire team formation with a base of fire pinning down ‘the gooks’," recalled Sarno. The objective was for each house to be cleared by a fire team. "This was not a live ammo demonstration or problem," he said. "There were no actual gooks in the shacks. It was all simulated. It was more about assaulting with correct maneuvers with a lot of commands from the fire team leader." When assault was necessary on the second story, Sarno continued, "we were to gain control with ropes thrown through upper windows. We had to scale the entrance." Fortunately, Chris Sarno and his fellow Marines did not have to carry out a live assault once they got to Korea. "The only urban fighting done in Korea by the USMC," he explained, "was at the Inchon-Seoul capture. The rest of the battles were hamlet intrusions." But the Combat Town Course training at Pendleton served as a means to familiarize the Marines on how house to house combat was to be conducted should the annihilation of embedded enemy troops be necessary. "We spent two days on this course, repeating the appropriate assault techniques," Sarno said. It was one of the last crucial training phases that he was to undergo in California.

Now that his training consumed less of his time because it was almost over, Sarno took a little time to enjoy his California surroundings. He commented, "Do you know what I always loved about California? Fog in the morning that all cleared by 10 a.m. The mid-afternoon cool breeze. At break time, all crapped out and sweating like a wetback, I loved feeling that cool breeze against my skin and watching the stringy branches of the trees flitting in the soft breeze." In spite of the brutal training he had to undergo at Pendleton, he still has strong memories of the softer moments there, under the eucalyptus trees.


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