Swimming Holes - Chris Sarno Memoir
|The Marines also took time out from the daily
regimen of combat twice on scorching hot and humid days in July and August of 1952. In July, while in the Korean
Marine Corps sector of the MLR, "A" Company tankers paused for a refreshing dip in the water. "Any combat Marine
who was in Korea knows how hot it was during the monsoon rainy season," Sarno commented. "It got desert hot, and
our misery was compounded by a baked-on humidity, and H&I gook rounds which splashed in our area during daylight
hours. After one sultry morning’s direct fire mission was successfully completed, my driver, Corporal Woods, our
loader Pfc Johns, along with yours truly, had just secured from the usual daily routine of cleaning up all weapons
and the preventive maintenance of the tracks and turret. We felt the blanket of the smothering humidity and the
relentlessness of an afternoon sun, which was bleaching us out. We tried to just crap out in the shadow of our
sandbagged bunker’s entrance for some relief. Lazily, we were keeping an eye [binoculars] on a group of KMC’s
thrashing grain with long poles and leather straps about 200 yards forward and just below the skyline."
The Marines left their tank, with assistant driver Linstrom on watch. "The three of us ambled over towards the KMCs," Sarno said, "and silently we watched them do their thing. Neither group could converse without sign language, pidgin English, or gook talk. After a spell of shit-eating grins and ‘you #1’s’, we decided to depart. The heat and humidity was really knocking us down, along with dust all over our dungarees. Even the scrub brush along the path was heavily coated with a choking silt."
Sarno said that the water ration in the jerry cans aboard the tank was getting alarmingly low, and no word had come yet about when the motor transport crews would arrive with the water trailer. "No use of water other than for drinking was allowed for the past several sweltering days," Sarno recalled. "We smelled like Hogan’s goats, and we all sucked on a small pebble to keep some semblance of saliva in our mouths. As we approached a bend in the path out of sight of the KMC’s, we stumbled upon a small water well in a secluded area. The top of the well was only inches above the surface and covered with branches. Water bugs zigzagged on the water. Suddenly, we got the bright idea to take a quick bath in the inviting cool water. Quick as a flash, one of us would drop all his web gear and attached weapons, then wallow in the well with a small precious bar of soap, while the other two Marine cruds stood watch."
In short order, the Marines were 35 degrees cooler and refreshed. When three KMCs started coming down the trail, Sarno and Johns brushed away the soap scum in and around the rim of the well. "In no time, the three smiling KMCs noticed how cool looking we appeared to be," Sarno said. "While two KMCs bummed smokes off Woods the other KMC bent down to fill up their two jerry cans from the just-polluted hidden well. The KMC just splashed aside the bugs off the surface of the water and immediately submerged his jerry cans. With that done, we saluted the KMCs and bid them sayonara as we shuffled on down the dirty, dusty trail to our steel chariots. If a KMC outfit ever suffered stomach cramps or worse, then it was because of three scuzzy, mean and filthy USMC tankers, who were in dire need of….the pause that refreshes."
A month later, in early August of 1952, the Marines found an opportunity for yet another short, cool, dip in water on a hot Korean day. Just back of the MLR in a defilade area, there was a long curve in the Imjin River near Freedom Gate Bridge. Able Company tankers on three M-46 Patton tanks, "all cruds with a baked on sweat of 28 days/nights on the line", were granted permission by their officers to take a swim in the Imjin. "Now it was grab-ass time at the old swimming hole Marine Corps style," Chris Sarno said. "While parked in the tall bulrushes at the river’s edge, the three steel monsters made the greatest diving platforms a Marine could ever desire. Bars of soap were grabbed hand from hand, and we jokingly made damn sure we didn’t drop the precious scented soap. The usual hi-jinx were the order of the day, and who dared blame us? We had set up local security by means of three machine gun posts, and after half an hour those crewmen were relieved to hit the Imjin." The misery of hot weather and combat combined was bad on the morale of their men, so combat-savvy commanding officers had allowed this rare break for their men. "This simple trek to the water made us feel almost human again," Sarno said. Combat-wise C.O.’s such as Capt. Clyde Hunter knew how to spell relief for their battle-scarred Marines. Within the hour, all 30 plus tankers gathered up all their gear and weapons, and hit the magneto and starter switches for the short fast ride back to our scattered revetments. With shouts of Spartan joy, air mattresses buffeting the rush of wind, rifles, and pistols raised on high, the three tanks sped down the trail. "Being only 19 years old and a driver of a 50-ton combat loaded tank," Sarno said, "I was in hog heaven maneuvering this M-46 Patton tank that rode like a Cadillac."
Sarno said that the God of War smiled down on them that sweltering day. "In addition, it made night outpost watch a little less stressful, because ‘Luke the Gook’ didn’t probe our area that night either. We were really something in those bygone days; however, little did we realize there was an escalating morass brewing a short distance to the east. The murderous sieges for Bunker Hill #122 were about to erupt."