May Fire Mission - Chris Sarno Memoir
|Most days, however, were serious ones, with the targets for artillery rounds being human ones. Artillery units
fired their weapons under the guidance of a forward observer. The FO calculated the coordinates to help the
artillery rounds reach their targets. Like an artillery unit, tanks could provide indirect fire. However, unlike
artillery units, a tank was also capable of engaging in direct fire missions at targets. In May of 1952, Captain
Clyde W. Hunter took over Captain Raphael’s job as commanding officer of A Company Tanks. An enlisted Marine who
had served in the 6th Tank Battalion on Iwo Jima, Sarno said that Hunter was gung ho from the outset. "I only
served under Captain Hunter three months," Sarno said. "He wasn’t a picture poster Marine, but he had a good,
rugged look about him. He was a very impatient Marine, and he loved combat. He didn’t run amuck in combat, but he
was the only Marine commanding officer who actually showed me that he was fearless. I liked him right away. I have
to say in all honesty that Captain Hunter was the most fearless and courageous commanding officer I ever served
with. I thought the world of him. All he wanted to do, and he put it right out there for all of us to know it, was
to kill the enemy. He made it known that all we were there to do was to kill as many gooks as we could. It was as
simple as that, and brother, we killed them under Captain Hunter."
Soon after Hunter’s arrival, tanks A-42 (Hunter’s tank) and A-41 (Sarno’s tank) went out on a two-tank exercise. "We traveled at a fast clip forward of the Marine trench line into No Man’s Land," Sarno recalled. "It was scary out there because we didn’t have any infantry to back us up. We didn’t know if we would be coming back. On that hot summer’s day, traveling in an area where we had never been before, we found low hills and rice paddies. As we entered, we saw two elevated rises on the terrain—one ahead and the other to my right. We came upon a platoon-size bunch of gooks crapped out in front of us." As the gooks tried to dash to safety, machine gun fire rained down on the two tanks. It was a moment of decision for the captain in Tank A-41. Which should be taken out first? Machine gun emplacements or enemy troops on the run?
"I was traversing turret to get the live gooks," said Sarno. "I knew the machine guns weren’t going anywhere." But the tank commander decided they should first get the machine gun emplacements instead. Sarno’s opinion was that it was more important to destroy the running gooks while they were exposed in a direct line of fire, especially given the fact that the two enemy machine guns that were peppering them with bullets were of no threat to the heavily-armored tanks. The machine guns could have been knocked out later at the tank crews’ leisure. During the ensuing moments, Sarno did as the tank commander requested. Two direct hits on the machine gun emplacements blasted them to smithereens. After all, they were only some 400 yards away. "Firing 400 yards away with high explosive rounds was like hitting our target with an A-bomb," Sarno explained. Their destruction was quick and easy. Unfortunately, time spent blasting the emplacement meant that the remaining enemy troops had just enough time to get behind a low hill and out of the direct line of tank fire. Those weapon-carrying gooks would live to fight another day—and perhaps live to kill U.S. Marines. Sarno was not happy. Like his new CO, Sarno felt that the only good gook – was a dead gook. "I guess the lust for body counts overruled everything else," said Sarno. "I can truly say that the more gooks I got, the more I wanted. It was an insatiable lust for killing the enemy."
The lost opportunity to kill live enemy was the last straw for Chris Sarno. He was angry, and he let Lieutenant Corson know, in no uncertain terms, that he blamed an incompetent tank commander for it. "Corson tried to calm me down," recalled Sarno, "but I said, ‘No, this guy is gonna kill us all sooner or later. He can’t make decisions.’ I talked to Corson like a guy, not an officer, because I didn’t care any more. I didn’t want to die. The rest of the guys on the crew and I had talked among ourselves about the situation. We knew that we had to somehow deep six this guy before he killed us." Even though the lieutenant broke out a bottle of his best Remy-Martin cognac and offered his irate buck sergeant a drink, Sarno did not cool off until Lieutenant Corson agreed that something had to be done with the faulty tank commander. He promised Sarno that he would realign the platoon once the company got off of the line. "I think that Lieutenant Corson sensed the desperation in my voice and body just after this direct fire mission," Sarno said. "Once that cognac got in my blood stream, it did calm me to some extent. Corson complimented me on the two direct hits and told me I was the best gunner in headquarters platoon. He said that he wanted me to give lectures on the 90mm and .45 caliber pistols when Able Company went into Reserve. As I left the lieutenant’s quarters, I still asserted that he needed to deep-six our inexperienced tank commander. Corson nodded in the affirmative. Damn, that green tank commander was worse than the gooks."