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First Impressions - Chris Sarno Memoir

Sarno and the other members of the 12th Replacement Draft finally set foot on Korean soil during the last ten days of July in 1951. "We were on that damned boat for 19 days—the most miserable 19 days of my life," said Chris Sarno. "I was happy as hell to get off that bucket." He said that the first thing he noticed about Pusan was that it was a shabby port. "We didn’t see many of the natives at the dock," he recalled, "but there was a terrible stench in the air. It was an acrid, dry stench that I had never smelled before in my life."

The men were herded into cattle cars, and then driven through the dirt streets of Pusan. There, they got their first glimpses of the natives. "When we were going through these streets," Sarno said, "I saw a couple of civilians and a little kid. One guy was taking a dump and the kid was taking a leak. That was the stench." A town originally with some 30,000 natives, Pusan had swollen into a haven for over a quarter of a million refugees from the northern regions of South Korea because of the invading North Korean/Chinese forces.

They were trucked from Pusan to Chunchon into a secured area; a barbed wire compound where one of the first people Chris Sarno saw was a Marine tanker from his home town back in Massachusetts. His name is Sgt. Jacky McGaffigan; he was awarded the Silver Star for rescuing his tank crew at the Chosin Reservoir epic battle in December 1950. The arriving Marines were replacements for the survivors of the Chosin Reservoir campaign. A member of Charlie Company and a buck sergeant, the war-weary Marine was on his way home. Although the Chosin veteran and Sarno were not chums, they were neighbors who lived a block away from each back home. "It surprised me to learn what a small world it was," Sarno said.


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