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Turkey Shoot - Chris Sarno Memoir

"The Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) were redoubtable adversaries," recalled Sarno, "with more than ample weapons and gear generously bestowed upon them by their Russian allies, as we were soon to find out. Before the 1st Marine Division arrived on the western front, the 1st Republic of Korea (ROK) Division was defending this sector. There was no combat to speak of, even though the patrols were visible to one another. Neither the Chinese nor the ROK gooks got into firefights. On 2 April 1952, just to let the Chinese know a new kind of kid was on the block, we were assigned to tank combat patrols, one platoon of tanks to various line companies of the 5th Marine Regiment. On our first mission, I was the bow gunner with 2nd Lieutenant Sheldon as Tank Commander and Cpl. Ray Kapinski as gunner." (Soon after this battle action, Sheldon went to Dog Company tanks as a tank platoon leader.)

Sarno said that the platoon slowly moved behind the low hills. "When we got to the crestline, lo and behold, below us and in the paddies to our front was a company of Chinese, all shagging ass for cover that was about 400 yards away. Lieutenant Sheldon and I had the binoculars on those terror-stricken troops, who were literally sprinting for their lives. His immediate command was to open up with 30s and 50s, but not to use the 90mm—yet."

The five tank gunners couldn’t believe the field day unfolding in front of them. "Live troops were caught out in the open," Sarno explained. "It was a turkey shoot. Shortly thereafter, Lieutenant Sheldon ordered the use of the 90s with high explosive rounds and a fuse setting to cause air burst effect. The 90mm was a demoralizing weapon when you were at the receiving end of it." Sarno also said that it was a foregone conclusion that there were to be no enemy survivors. "The green rice paddies ran crimson on that spring day as one Chinese company perished," he recalled. Where in the history books can one read about the Able Tank turkey shoot? It isn’t possible, noted Sarno, "because the coverage of this war was restricted by the politicians who were now dictating to our field commanders. Truly, Korea was the ominous harbinger for a Vietnam, a decade later."

Only the tanks, not the men themselves, were made of durable steel. That night, one of the men agonized over the fact that he had seen the face of an enemy point blank range as he squeezed the trigger of the 90mm and sent the gook to his death. Sarno put his arm on his buddy’s shoulders to reassure him. "I saw the entire fire fight from above and outside the hatch," Sarno said. "There were bodies and parts of bodies flying through the air, so try not to feel depressed over one lousy enemy." Both of the Marines knew that these were the wages of war. "We were in the asshole of the world," Sarno said, "doing what we were diligently and assiduously trained to do by expert Marine officers and NCOs who had vanquished the Japanese throughout the Pacific Island campaigns in World War II."

While endless peace talks were going on at Panmunjom, slaughter of mankind continued on the MLR that night, and for many days and nights to come. "All through that night, heavy artillery from Goonyland raked the entire Marine MLR for hours," Sarno said. "Hundreds, maybe thousands, of 122s and 155s slammed into Marine positions. The Chinese Communists now realized that they had a far more portentous and awesome opponent in the 1st Marine Division now guarding the gateway to Seoul."

The Marine tankers relieved the 2nd Army Division’s 72nd Army Tank Battalion there. "All of our twenty tanks pulled into this Army tank outfit’s CP," he said. "Their tanks were so outwardly different from ours. Theirs had weird names—any kind of a name—written on the turret. There were no numbers. There were just names. We went into a rather large bunker and found that the tankers were all black, with the exception of one white officer." Sarno recalled that there was no intermingling of black and white troops. Nobody was shaking hands or showing gestures of friendship of any kind. "Every Marine was reacting the same way," he said. "They were just looking and staring, not even saying hi. That’s the way the Marine Corps viewed blacks at the time. There were no goodbyes when they left. They just got in their tanks and went out of sight. We remodeled the CP area to our standards." The gateway was now protected by members of the United States Marine Corps.


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