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Life on the General Meigs - Chris Sarno Memoir

Although he had trouble adjusting to mess duty in the scullery, Chris Sarno felt great on this, his first voyage out to sea. He got his "sea legs" quickly, but all around him his fellow passengers started to get sick by the fourth or fifth day out to sea. A Marine named Slagenhoff got sick and never recovered until the ship docked. "He never got out of his rack from the day we left until we got to Korea," recalled Sarno. "He couldn’t even eat. I used to bring food back from the chow hall, but just looking at it he would get sick and have the dry heaves. I don’t know how he made it. The only thing he could keep down was water, crackers and milk."

It wasn’t long before Sarno could empathize with Slagenhoff. "One day we had a boat drill down on the fourth deck," he said. "The air was really foul. It was August. It was hot and sticky. It was miserable. I remember just waiting around with the rest of the guys in the compartment to go top side to the boat station for the drill. All of the sudden I looked at a Marine beside me who had a Hershey’s chocolate bar—one of those brown bars with the paper on it. I remember just looking at that brown paper and the next thing I knew I felt something coming up and my cheeks were full of fluid. I tried to hold it, but the next thing I knew I was ready to burst. And that was the beginning of my being sea sick. For the next three days I was in misery. I could get around, but once I got rid of what was in my stomach, I still had the dry heaves. Those were worse because your stomach really knotted up and it was really painful. Nobody gave a damn that you were sick, either. I remember after the third day thinking that I could make it down to the chow hall. I got down there and had a tray full with a chicken leg on it. I was starving. But as soon as I put the tray down to dig into it, right away I felt those pains. I went to the GI can where we dumped all the remnants off of our trays. There were two cans, and guys were standing by them banging their trays clean. I was on my hands and knees puking into the can, but guys still tried to get their tray in beside my head in the can." Sarno’s seasickness left as abruptly as it came, and then he was able to "eat like a horse." But he said that he went through the same process on every ship he was on.

In spite of Marines and Army guys upchucking as the ship stayed on its course to the Far East, Navy officers insisted that the Meigs be kept as clean as circumstances would allow. Every morning there was compartment inspection. The men were sent on deck while Navy officers and Marine commanders inspected the compartment. "If it wasn’t clean," explained Sarno, "we had to go below and clean it again to meet Navy specifications. They didn’t want any virus to run rampant. It was so grungy on the fourth deck down below—there was no fresh air or breeze or anything—we decided we would sleep above deck." After the night movies, the Marines took a blanket and slept on deck. "It was cool," remembered Sarno. "You could feel a breeze. Early in the morning, the next thing I knew I was being pushed down the deck with a power hose. The ship’s personnel had to hose the deck down every morning. They didn’t bother waking us up—they just blew us away."

Sometimes the ship hit rough weather, and the Marines were not allowed to stay on deck. "We had two or three days of constant huge swells," recalled Sarno. "This also exposed me to the power of the ocean. The ocean is the most powerful natural element I ever saw in my life. Those waves were so huge they crested over the bow and went rushing by us followed by another one and another one. It was like a little roller coaster. You went down and that wave looked like it was going over the whole ship. It was scary. But it wasn’t just the wave. The wave was thick. It had a lot of girth to it, and it was powerful. I’ve never seen anything more powerful than an angry ocean." Under rough sea conditions, the men had to stay below deck and sweat it out.

The General Meigs traveled on to Kobe, Japan, where members of the 1st Marine Air Wing disembarked. Their unit operated out of Japan and Pohang on the southeast coast of South Korea. The remaining passengers stayed aboard ship, and a little later, 500 Army troops were dropped off at Yokohama, Japan. Their final destination was Pusan, Korea. "As the 12th Replacement Draft sailed slowly in the Sea of Japan near the port of Pusan, Korea," Sarno recalled, "we all rushed to the rail to watch another troop ship passing in the opposite direction. Over the watery span between both ships, we heard this chant…. ‘You’ll Be Sooorrreeee.’ Believe me, that summed up just what was ahead for us. It was the epitaph for service in Korea."


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