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Artillery Valley - Chris Sarno Memoir

The hit on the eastern front took place in November of 1951 when Able Company was on the MLR. "We were in Artillery Valley about a mile behind the trench/bunker line," Sarno said. Located just above Inje, Korea, this valley held the 11th Marine Regiment artillery, as well as a three-mile stretch of Army field artillery battalions. "Our CP was located in a dried up rice paddy south of the crater entrance of the Punchbowl and just below the northern rim of the higher hills of 1052, 1026, and 907," Sarno recalled. "We went out every other day on direct fire missions, returning to the CP to load up, gas up, clean weapons and do maintenance on the tank."

Adjacent to Tank A-41 was a US Army field artillery unit of "long toms" [a type of long-range gun]. Sarno said, "When they had a fire mission, the entire deck would tremble. The rest of this battle-scarred valley contained the entire 11th Marine Artillery Regiment of 105’s and 155’s. It was a reassuring vista to look out on tons and tons of artillery pieces for miles and miles. One bright chilly morning, I noticed this Marine jeep coming over the skyline and towards our area. Upon the jeep’s hood were two cruddy North Korean prisoners lashed to the windshield." He said that two Marine military policemen were escorting the prisoners to Division, which was way in the rear.

"Suddenly," he said, "I heard these loud roaring sounds in the sky above, ending with hellacious explosions. My day of reckoning was at hand--it was gook incoming and plenty of it. I hit the deck fast and remained there flat as a bastard." Two other crew members, Sergeant Holler (tank commander of A-44 and a World War II veteran) and Pfc. Barr, were by him. "We couldn’t get into the dirt deep enough," Sarno recalled. "The ‘incoming’ was falling all around us. We could hear the hot shrapnel whizzing from all angles." Sarno crawled to the dozer tank, where Corporal Blasi (a strong kid from Kansas who was the assistant driver) and Sergeant Burke (a Marine tanker who had seen action at Inchon-Seoul-Chosin) dropped the driver’s escape hatch. "Punchy [gunner on dozer tank A-44] and I got up into the turret and looked out the periscopes. Hot lead was zinging off the turret as the incoming exploded." Sarno said that he could see the pasting going on below them. "We had a grandstand seat, viewing hit after exploding hit raining down into Artillery Valley. There were black oil clouds, air explosions, and ammo dumps hit," he recalled. "This gook forward observer [FO] was good, and he was having a field day on all of us in the valley. The command diaries read that seventy rounds of 122mm rained down on us that day. Much later, we learned the FO was captured and word had it, he was a North Korean Major."

This is how we cleaned the tube of a 90mm.
Photo taken October 1951, Tank CP,
Artillery Valley, Eastern Front.

Sarno said that he felt a lot safer from the incoming artillery rounds once he was inside the Sherman tank. "Next to the dozer was A-33," he remembered, "and all hell broke loose as it took a direct hit on its engine compartment. I even flinched inside my tank on the percussion effect. The heavy steel engine and transmission doors flew through the air like empty coffee cans. A-33 was totaled with engine and transmission fires. Later we found out that two Marine tankers were killed in action, and another was wounded as the result of the direct hit."

The MP jeep that had been approaching just as the artillery fire began was still within sight. "With all the din of battle continuing," Sarno said, "I decided to check out the two gook prisoners on the jeep. There the jeep was, still out there on the road with the two screaming gooks taking in this incoming barrage from goonyland. The two MPs were nowhere in sight—probably in the dirt and mud of the nearest rice paddy. We were laughing our asses off at the plight of the two gooks going through purgatory out there still on top of that jeep. No one cared how much shrapnel the gooks had to take. No combat Marine gave a rat’s ass about our enemies." He said that it seemed like an eternity before the 122’s stopped splashing into Artillery Valley. "Finally the two MPs meandered up to the jeep," Sarno recalled. "We again had to laugh at the two MPs for getting their starched uniforms all muddy. They started up the jeep and proceeded to drive off as if nothing at all had happened with the two crazy and frenzied gooks. To this day, I can still hear their screams of terror."

This was Chris Sarno’s "baptism of fire"—a frightening introduction to the realities of combat. When it began, he had just left mess duty in the mess hall to head back to his quarters. Fifty years later, when he read the command diaries about the incident, he learned something that he had long forgotten. "The mess tent area was completely blasted to bits," he said. The trek to his quarters probably kept Sarno from either being killed in action or seriously wounded that day. "My first encounter with lethal gook firepower was under my belt, with plenty more to come before I was rotated stateside in August of 1952," he said. "In addition, I realized something else. Our violent Marine training and mindset showed ever so clear our contempt and utter disregard about these oriental aggressors, whom we never gave any quarter to, in or out of the heat of battle."


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