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Western Front - Chris Sarno Memoir


Sgt Chris Sarno
Tank Commander

The stint on Hill 1026 had caused a lot of misery for Chris Sarno, but he also felt that something good came out of it. "That stretch up on 1026 made me a combat Marine for all the difficult times to come on the Western Front," he said. "The Punchbowl campaign defined me as a combat Marine. The gook was never given any quarter—none at all. Kill or be killed was the daily regime, and we thought nothing of it."

For the next three weeks, Sarno stayed in Tank Battalion Reserve at Wontog-ni on a riverbed. He and the other crew members were then sent off to a muddy CP some fifty miles inland from the eastern coastline and another 140 road miles east of Seoul to await the arrival of other tank companies. The new orders for the entire 1st Marine Division called for a massive move from the eastern front to the western front of Korea. In a 35-mile front from the Yellow Sea to the central part of Korea, the Marines were to take up positions forty miles north of Seoul in relief of the 1st ROK Division. "We had the largest combat front on the western front for a division," Sarno explained. "We were specifically assigned to that sector because intelligence had reason to believe the Chinese 63/65th Army was going to burst through and try to take Seoul again."

The western coast of Korea would offer the tank battalions a less restricted space in which to operate tanks than the east coast had provided. "Once they took us to the western front 50 miles above Seoul," Sarno recalled, "it was all rolling foothills. There were no razorback mountains. There was only Hill 226, sitting just straight up in level terrain. The gooks had that, and they could see all the way in to our sector. Even still, we had much more mobility and space to operate on in the western front." To get there from the eastern front, the grunts were trucked westward. Meanwhile, all of the 1st Tank Battalion’s 105 armored tanks were to assemble in one area for a spectacular drive to the sea. At the small port of Soko-ri, the tanks were to be picked up by LSTs, and then shipped all the way around the bottom of Korea and back up to Inchon. From there they were to be driven to Seoul.

Just before they moved out of the eastern sector of Korea, there was an incident of an accidental discharge of someone’s weapon. "That’s frowned on by Marine officers," Sarno explained, "because there’s nothing recognized as an accidental discharge. You’re supposed to fire that weapon on purpose. So the platoon sergeants came and announced that everybody was to go outside with their .45s for inspection. We cursed and got squared away to go out there. In comes this big dude who was always in trouble in the Reserve area. He said, ‘Jeez, I’m in trouble. I accidentally discharged my weapon, and I’ve got no bore cleaner.’ We knew that they were going to smell the muzzles of the .45s. All of our bore cleaners were on the tank, so one of the guys in the tent yelled out that he had some Wildroot Cream Oil for his hair. That’s all we had. But the Marine who had accidentally fired his weapon said that he would take anything just to get the carbon smell out of the bore before they smelled it. He jammed the cream oil in there. Finally, we all fell out and the officers came down. They had murder in their eyes because a pogue in battalion who was always in Reserve got hit in the back during the accidental discharge. The officers came by us. Our XO was a good combat officer, but he was a typical Marine officer in Reserve—he was a prick. He was subbing as a CO, and new at running the show. We disliked him in the Reserve area because he changed his spots when he felt safe in the Reserve area. On the line, his life was in jeopardy from his own men if he wasn’t careful."

The XO was determined to find the culprit who had fired the .45, and to run him up on charges once he found him. "When he grabbed the big dude’s pistol," Sarno recalled, "he smelled it. He said that it didn’t smell like bore cleaner. But that dude was sharp. He told the XO, ‘naw…that’s gook cleaner, sir—a mixture of gasoline and oil. That’s all we’ve got.’" Nobody ratted on the guy who actually fired the weapon, and the XO couldn’t find the culprit.


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