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Korean Marines - Chris Sarno Memoir

Sarno explained that Korean Marines were trained behind the lines as quickly as American Marines could teach them. "They did adequate work," Sarno said of the Koreans, "but they had a long way to go to equal American Marines. You’ve got to realize that Korea was not liberated until the Japanese surrendered it after World War II. In 1945, we walked into Korea—a country that had always been repressed since time immemorial. They never experienced any semblance of freedom until 1945, and here it was just six years later. Yes, they were Korean Marines. They wanted to be like American Marines and we gave them accelerated training, but they were an undisciplined lot." In addition, he pointed out, there was a language barrier that caused communication to be limited. "But they didn’t run," Sarno said. "The ROKs ran, but the Korean Marines fought until they were killed. I give them credit there. And they didn’t run in the Punchbowl. My first experience with them was in the Punchbowl, where they went up in columns. They were just a fledgling outfit in 1951. In the beginning they needed a lot of formal training, but they had to be rushed into combat. I never saw the Korean Marines retreat, and I wasn’t apprehensive if they were on our flank helping us out. I suppose that they are okay now. They’re proven. But I don’t see them on par with us regardless."

Certainly the discipline or reprimand meted out to wayward Korean Marines was different than those given to United States Marines. On the third night of their guard duty on Hill 1026, both Sarno and Durk spotted a figure staggering past the rear of the tank. At the time, there was a blizzard. "Moving through the howling snowstorm," recalled Sarno, "this character had a 55 gallon drum of diesel fuel on his A-frame. This dwarf-like figure, with bowed out legs, continued to scurry on down the KMC trench while still bouncing up against both sides of the trench; after all, he was toting a dead weight of 500 pounds. The drum of fuel was taken from our small dump on the reverse side. Durk and I kicked it around on what to do about this. In the blink of an eye, it was crystal clear to us. At 0600, we reported this theft to TC/Sgt. Bob Hunt (Syracuse, NY). He promptly radioed our report to our platoon leader, Lieutenant Henderson, atop hill #702. The lieutenant made contact with the CO of the KMC platoon stationed on our section of the line. Scuttlebutt had it, the KMC captain would ferret out this thief and he would execute him. Our lieutenant interceded and suggested a lesser punishment, and the KMC captain reluctantly reconsidered."

The American Marines were notified to observe the reverse slope one afternoon to witness the punishment decreed by the KMC officer. Sarno said that his crew was about 100 yards from the scene. "It was a damn cold, cloudy afternoon (+5 degrees above) when we saw two KMC officers come out of their bunker. They screamed out something in Korean and out came the 12-man KMC squad. The KMC officer drew his Lugar and motioned for two men to tie the looter to a pole by binding his two hands above his head. Then two squad members proceeded to strip this poor devil of all of his winter clothing. The culprit was now bare-ass naked. The KMC captain motioned with his sidearm for the first enlisted man to step forward and to grab this four-foot long bamboo rod. This squad member gave the tied-up thief five terrible lashings across his back, buttocks, and legs. The KMC officer, with a menacing look on his face, stood over each squad member, which meted out this bloodletting caning, and each KMC, under that gun, lashed away with gusto. When it was finished, the thief laid limp against the pole while his back, buttocks, and legs were but a bloody pulp of red meat. The platoon sergeant cut him down and his squad quickly carried the battered body into their bunker. Next, the KMC captain holstered his Lugar, turned in our direction, and gave us a salty salute, which Sergeant Hunt returned. Although we were Allies, we were seeing a vast difference in cultures in no uncertain and graphic terms."


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