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Don’t Shoot the Ox - Chris Sarno Memoir

Infantrymen, artillery units, and tank units protected Seoul on the ground during this time period (April/May 1952). "Marine front-line troops think like animals, smell like animals, live like animals, and stink like animals," Chris Sarno said. Direct and indirect fire missions were daily fare on the western front of Korea, and the continuous living on the MLR was, according to Sarno, a "grim game of survival with an occasional side trip to tedium." Humorous moments were few and far between, and whatever humor brought the slightest smile to their faces was "macabre at best," he said. One such humorous moment occurred on a sunny day in April 1952 when Sarno’s five-tank platoon eased into the firing revetments on the bunker/trench line of the 5th Marine Regiment. "More than a few grizzly Marine grunts yelled for us to get the hell out of their sector," he said, "because all was quiet. The mere presence of tanks could only make anxious Chinese Forward Observers splash the Marine line with incoming."

Sarno said that they had their orders for a fire mission, so they proceeded to plaster the Red Chinese gooks forward slopes with high explosive and white phosphorus rounds. "Ninety millimeter rounds ripped huge craters into the elevated land mass looking down on the MLR," he said. "This scenario took place for the third straight morning, with no response from ‘Luke the Gook.’ Marine tank gunners had a field day at close range, firing at bunkers. Sandbagged ridges flew all over the place. Still there was no angry incoming from Hill 656. Since I was gunning that day on tank A-41, I shifted my gunner’s telescope to the sprawling rice paddies, hoping to catch someone out in the open. But, no luck—except for a live ox that was standing all by his lonesome about 2,000 yards away at the base of the mountain."

The tank commander reported the presence of the ox over the tank radio to the tank platoon lieutenant. "His quick response to the other four tanks was," recalled Sarno, "’Don’t shoot the ox! I say again, Don’t shoot the ox!’" Four affirmative responses came over the other tank radios, and the rapid firing of the 90s continued to pour it on into enemy territory. Sarno said that some 10 to 15 minutes later, he decided to check on the ox. Traversing the turret, he didn’t see any sign of the beast. Had he disappeared into thin air? "Within minutes," Sarno said, "the lieutenant was on the horn clamoring, ‘Who’s the crazy @#$% who shot the ox?’ Naturally, no one owned up to the sending of this honorable ox to ox heaven. I know for a fact that we were all howling at the consternation of our lieutenant. The moral of this tale is that, once you train men to hate and kill the enemy, everything becomes fair game in the endless slaughter taking place night and day in ‘no man’s land’ that is being totally leveled by firepower from both sides. There were never any ten commandments on the Korean War MLR. Unfortunately, this ox was in the wrong place at the wrong time. So sorry. But we had to shoot something for the body count. Upon returning to our tank CP, we cleaned up all weapons and ammo and relaxed by downing a few bottles of Japanese beer (scrounged off an abandoned Army 6x6), toasting the poor unfortunate ox." It was a rare day of humor on the front line.


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