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Beer Run to Wonju - Chris Sarno Memoir

He would soon taste a fruit that he discovered was far tastier than a mere bowl of cherries. The tank company was settled into the daily routine of work details, attending gunnery classes, and standing watch on machine gun outposts every night. One day, Gunny Bird sent Sarno on a beer run to Wonju. A non-drinker, Chris could not understand why he was chosen to pick up beer. The angry gunny grabbed him by the neck and said, "You dumbass bastard, I know that. That’s why I selected you! This way you won’t drink a case of beer on the way back."

On LST 1068
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Fifty-plus years later, Chris Sarno still remembered the beer run to Wonju. "The beer detail consisted of one buck sergeant and four corporals," he said. "It was very cold when we shoved off for Wonju, some 70 miles south of Artillery Valley. I recall at several pit stops observing South Korean peasants standing in the cold water paddies, that smelly, brown water. Clusters of kids also gathered around us looking for anything we had to hand out. A couple of USMC old salts had pogie-bait for a few lucky kids wearing rubber inserts for footwear—civilians victimized by the ravages of a war-torn country. Wonju was a battered village and completely leveled; however, it was still a vital, military junction because five roadways intersected this pastoral hamlet. The 8th Army units controlled the entire area and it was a huge distribution complex for ammo, gas, chow, and, of course, beer."

Sarno said that their 6x6 arrived at Wonju around noon, and by late that afternoon, it was filled with cases of beer. "The Army invited us to evening chow in their spacious mess hall," he recalled. "As usual, the doggies had thick steaks with all the fixings. Many miles north, Marines were getting their butts shot to bits, while these rear echelon pogues lived the life of Riley. Marines never got a break! I was wondering where we were to sack out when one of our detail had the bright idea to go through the wire and link up with the local rice paddy queens. Silently I joined the party and played follow the leader. After all, I hadn’t seen a woman since June so, hell’s bells, my interest was very keen with this liberty risk group. A few hours later, and happily satisfied like hogs in hog heaven, we slipped back through the Army wire; the doggie sentry held the wire up for us—what an outfit! Can you imagine a Marine sentry doing such? Hell no!"

The next day, Gunny Bird asked the youngest Marine in the outfit if he had "scored" while he was at Wonju. "With a big shit-eating grin I stated ‘Friggin’ A, Gunny,’" Sarno told him. Sarno said that the gunny just kept on walking, then looked over his shoulder, and yelled, "Now aren’t you glad that you don’t drink?" Sarno recalled with a smile even fifty years later that he was beaming at the gunny’s remark. "I just cranked off a salty salute back at him," he said. "Indeed, I was now accepted as one of the old combat tankers." At age 18, Chris Sarno had just experienced two types of loss of innocence. He had seen and experienced combat first hand, and he had scored with one of the South Korean girls. "I had at least another long nine more months to go in Korea, never thinking I was going to make it out of this asshole-of-the-world country in one piece," he explained about his loss of innocence. "So we all lived vicariously for the moment. It was a heady existence, but one I could associate with very easily at death’s door."


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