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Endless Survival - Chris Sarno Memoir

Having survived Korea for 11 months, forced to endure the filthy and often frightening conditions on the front line, Sarno faced one of his biggest challenges just thirty days or so shy of being rotated out. Coming back from a fire mission, barbed wire tangled in A-41’s right sprocket, which was a weak spot on the suspension system. "I was in the gunner’s seat," he recalled. "I couldn’t see anything but the turret, and it was hot in there. Captain Hunter—a warrior, but a very impatient one—was in total command of the situation. He told the driver (Durk) that he didn’t care what he had to do to get the job done, but "just break that goddamn wire and get us back up on the road." Sarno said that the enemy knew they were in trouble, and now the tank was under artillery fire. By hook or crook, Durk finally freed the wire-tangled tank. "But before he got us loose," recalled Sarno, "I was sitting in that damn gunner’s seat saying, ‘I’m not going to make it this time.’ I knew my time had run out. I saw other guys get it when they were going home. This was it for me, I thought. ‘I’m just not going home.’ All I could think of was a round coming through that turret. It didn’t happen, but that’s what I was thinking at the time. ‘All of this has been for what? I’m gonna get killed.’ I just wanted to go home."

But home was far away at that moment. The closest haven to the tankers was in a defalade position nearby where they weren’t in danger any more. "But a tank following us did get a direct hit on the engine," Sarno said. "It was totaled. On the turret, there were some Korean Marines hitching a ride. They got blown to smithereens. And while we were viewing this, wondering what the officers were going to do about it, one of the jeep drivers drove out into the impact area and picked up what he thought were live Korean Marines. He brought in three. One was alive and two were dead. I remember a major jumping all over him for being there. I thought he had just done a heroic act, and he did subsequently get the bronze star. But he also got his ass chewed out for going out there."

Obviously the big adventure of going to war—that big adventure that Chris Sarno had so yearned for while he was in training at Parris Island, Pendleton, and Del Mar—was now growing wearisome. "Nobody can survive in combat endlessly," Sarno explained. "Your body’s mental capacities eventually break down. That’s why you aren’t put on the line for a whole year with a ‘hope you make it’. They always pulled us off the line after a month or so to ‘let us come back’. Because when you’re up there on the line, survival is all you have on your mind. ‘I’ve got to keep killing more gooks. They’re trying to kill me, so I’ve got to kill more of them.’ It was macabre survival." There was one fire mission after another one--day after day, week after week--and Sarno survived them all.


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