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Marilyn Comes to Visit- Chris Sarno Memoir


Photo courtesy Universal Pictorial Press & Agency. Photo loaned from the Douglas County Museum, Tuscola, IL, Historical Photo Collection.
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The remainder of January and the first of February that year were very cold in Korea. But in February, at least the hearts of the Marines were warmed when the beautiful and sexy Marilyn Monroe came to Korea to sing and otherwise entertain the troops serving there. The Marine Corps allowed three men from each tank to attend a USO show featuring Monroe. In addition, practically all of the recoilless rifle platoon got to go see her. "Our tank lieutenant had the final overall decision as to who went and who was to remain in AT-7 CP when the Marilyn Monroe show came," Sarno said. "Now that I think of it, none of our officers made the trip." Chris Sarno was one of the lucky ones who got to attend, and he remembered the experience well. "It was a long, cold February day," he said. "It wasn’t bitter cold, but it was damn cold--and it was cloudy. It was an hour’s bumpy ride down to Munsan-ni. Those 6x’s hit every bump. Our spines were hurting by the time we got off that truck. They didn’t miss a bump. But, although the trip was uncomfortable, we knew that we were going to see Marilyn Monroe, so we weren’t thinking about the bumps."

The men in Sarno’s unit got there early, waiting nearly an hour for the show to begin. One Marine from each of the five tanks had grabbed binoculars as they headed out for the show. "We were in the fourth row, waiting for her with high-powered binoculars," Sarno recalled. "The place was packed with Marines. We swore the whole division was there. There had to be close to 10,000 Marines there. The MPs were all in front of us there on the stage when they flew her in by helicopter. It was so cold there were snowflakes, but there wasn’t a snow storm."

In spite of the cold and the flakes of snow falling from the sky, Sarno said that Marilyn Monroe stepped out onto the stage in a stunning cocktail dress with spaghetti straps. "The cheering was the loudest I had ever heard," he said. "I never thought that well of Marilyn Monroe. I never thought that she was a good actress, and I considered her sort of like a slutty person." But the longer Marilyn stayed on the stage, the higher Sarno’s regard for her grew. "It had to be only like 5 or 10 degrees above zero," he said. "She wasn’t a great singer, but who cared. She sounded good enough. She was a knockout. She was proportionally beautiful." Sarno said that she played up to all of those thousands of Marines who watched her perform on the stage. "We got a kick out of that," Sarno said. "It was a raucous crowd. No swearing or vulgarities, just--‘More! More! More!’ Everybody was in love with her - everybody. Like I said, she couldn’t sing that good, but to us, she was the greatest singer in the world. She sang a couple of songs I had never heard her sing before. One of them was ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,’ because that movie was out at the time. She sang that a couple of times. Whatever she did, we thought it was terrific. She could do no wrong. She changed my mind towards her. She was truly beautiful; really beautiful, gorgeous. She had a naiveté about herself despite being the most desirable woman in the world. She wasn’t performing like a tart. She was really trying to entertain us."

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Sarno said that Marilyn had a backup of about five musicians, but they weren’t prominent in the show. They didn’t do any solos. Instead, they just did basic backup music for the famous blonde actress. "She did the bump and grind, smiled, and moved her hands while singing." The Marines all knew that she was married to baseball great Joe DiMaggio, but they didn’t care. For that one day, Marilyn Monroe was theirs to dream about and to admire. When the show was over, the men got back into the trucks for the long ride back up to the AT-7 area. The Monroe USO show temporarily lifted the men’s spirits, but morale was still at an all-time low in AT-7.

After returning from Korea, Sarno didn’t follow Marilyn Monroe’s career, even though he thought a lot of her. "I didn’t see every movie she was in after that," he said, "but the ones I look at now, I really look differently at her. Joe DiMaggio was one lucky SOB." He felt that Monroe’s death was an untimely tragedy, caused by the fact that she got mixed up with the wrong people. Her appearance in Korea was the best thing that so far had happened to him in Korea while he was on his second tour there. But the very best thing was yet to come…on an island called Japan….


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