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Lejeune Tank Instructor - Chris Sarno Memoir

When his 30-day leave was over, Sarno went on to his new duty station at Camp Lejeune. There, he was assigned to be one of ten tank instructors on the new M-47 Patton Series tank. Only two of the ten instructors were Korean War veterans. "I had no guard mounts and no watches," he said of his Lejeune assignment. "We had liberty every Friday at 4 p.m. until 7 a.m. on Monday. Major Snell was my Battalion Adjutant and my CO was Captain Curtis, a brigade Marine tanker in Korea. My Company Gunny was Master Sergeant Geiger, who was our Gunny in Able Company up until we went to the Western Front in Korea."

In the company of other Korean War combat Marines, and instructing young tankers who gave him respect, Sarno did not hate his duty in the South. But, in spite of the spit-shined base and large quantities of good chow, it had its drawbacks. He said it was all redneck country, with no good liberty spots close by. "The nearest good liberty was DC," he recalled, "and most of us had no cars." Once he attended a tank battalion dance. Dressed in his blues, he asked a pretty local girl for a dance. "We chatted while dancing and she asked me where I was from," Sarno said. He told her that he hailed from Boston, Massachusetts. "When the music started up again, I asked her to dance again. She said, ‘No, I don’t dance with Northern Yankees.’ Hello Joe! I walked out. I never felt comfortable in the South at any time. It was living in the past with bitter prejudice."

The "Northern Yankee" now started going up to Boston every other weekend for a 24-hour liberty. "A Marine with a car would get four or five other Eastern Seaboard Marines to help pay for the gas," he said, "and the driver would net about 35 bucks for himself. It took 18 hours of non-stop driving to get to Boston at 10 a.m. on Saturday. We hit the night clubs in Boston, and then were back on the road by noontime on Sunday. We weren’t allowed north of DC, so we were officially ‘out of bounds’ and could be put up on report if we were found out." Their cars were dependable, but one day after Christmas leave was up, it started to snow at Worcester. "This Marine who owned a 1952 Ford spun out of control on concrete at a turn in a bridge. We did a couple of 360s and ended up on a big grassy divider with both front wheels blown out and a busted radiator. We had to hitchhike from Worcester." Through a series of relays, various drivers got the near-tardy Marines back to the barracks at 6:50 a.m. Too late to change clothes, Sarno stood roll call in civvies and out of breath. "The Sergeant of the Guard chewed on me inside and out, but he didn’t put me on report," Sarno said. "Right then and there I swore I was going to go ‘back home’ to the First Marine Division in Korea. I didn’t want to go back there to get killed, but I just couldn’t stand stateside duty."

To get a transfer back to Korea, Sarno had to present his case to Captain Curtis, a veteran of the Chosin Reservoir campaign in Korea. He refused to grant Sarno’s request for two reasons. At that time (December 1952), the Marine Corps policy stated that anybody coming back from Korea had to spend a year in the United States to "think it over" before requesting another assignment there. The captain also pointed out to Sarno that a good Marine also has to be ready to serve in stateside duties as well as in combat duties. "There’s not always going to be a war," he told Sarno.

But Sarno was adamant that he wanted to go back to Korea. "From that time on, I was always trying to get back to Korea," he said. "I thought I could get a transfer without waiting an entire year, but it never happened. I did spend my full year in the United States before I was allowed to go back." During the wait, he took two tests in late January of 1953 in preparation for promotion to staff sergeant. One was a test on combat tactics, and the other was a technical test on the new M-47 tank.


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