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Marlex - Chris Sarno Memoir

It was now the last of July, and time for Chris Sarno to leave Marine Valhalla in Japan and return to Korea once more. There was an inter-island mail setup between Japan and Korea, so Chris and Yoshiko corresponded back and forth until it was time for him to leave in November.

In August, Sarno and the Marines of AT-7 and the 7th Marine Regiment participated in an amphibious training exercise called Marlex. "The US Marine Corps never rested with crapout time," Sarno said. "It wanted to keep its troops abreast of the latest techniques in amphibious landings." To do that, the 7th Marine Regiment, along with elements of the KMC Regiment, were drilled with amphibious training exercises.

During Marlex, Sarno was a tank commander in the Anti-Tank Company. Five M-46A1 Patton tanks, along with the grunts of the 75 mm recoilless rifle platoon, arrived at the port city of Inchon for the amphibious training exercise. "This Marlex was of some magnitude and scope, complemented by elements of the Korean Marine Corps unit," Sarno explained. "The sea was heavy, and the AT tankers became green-faced on its transport—a small, bouncing LCM. Because of her flat bottom, the small craft fought each swell on the white-capped sea. The night was long and hardly any of us slept. Because of the constant buffeting, a lot of gyrenes were puking their guts out." When daybreak came, several LST’s and LCM’s were clustered in a central area on the Yellow Sea. "There was no morning chow call aboard this boat," Sarno recalled, "so the lieutenant let us tear into our C-rations stashed alongside of the sponson boxes. While chowing down, we all wondered when we would get the signal to launch the amphibious assault. The surge of the tide was moving the vessel towards a low, silhouetted, but green island, with a nice sandy beach front."

Securing Able Company tanks on flat cars, October 1954. Tanks with fording gear prepare for amphibious landing onto Inchon, Korea.
(Click picture for a larger view)

Sarno said that the skipper of the LCM was the storybook personification of a salty Navy Chief. "He bellowed orders to anyone and everyone," Sarno remembered. "It was crystal clear that he knew what the hell he was doing, so we felt secure under his nautical guidance." He dropped anchor about 200 yards off the island. "The sea had remained choppy, and a cold wind was blowing in from the north," Sarno said. "Our lieutenant was always aloof and seldom asked his NCO’s about anything. He had always been a grunt officer, and really had no training with tanks at all. He approached me and whispered, ‘Sarno, you’ve been in combat and done this before. What do you suggest?’ I shot back, ‘Hey skipper. If we don’t have to send the tanks ashore, then don’t send them in.’" Sarno said that the lieutenant thought over Sarno’s suggestion, and then did just the opposite. "I want a Marine tank on that gook island," the lieutenant demanded.

Tank 73 was guided by four Navy frogmen over the water and to the beach. "Soon 73 tank was racing up and down that beach wide open, having a helluva ride for all to see," Sarno said. The men aboard ship were watching the scene with shared binoculars, and the lieutenant was also watching with his own pair. "He was grinning from ear to ear," Sarno said. "Finally, he ordered 73 tank back to its LCM. The fun was over. We continued to watch 73 tank on its return trip, only this time there were but two Navy frogmen with the tank. Suddenly, about 100 yards from the beach, 723 tank sank out of sight almost immediately. The tank had gone off a sandbar and disappeared under the salty brine. ‘Holy ----‘ was on all of our lips when fortunately all five crewmen surfaced. They were eventually rescued by the Navy in rubber rafts. Quickly, we glanced over to our lieutenant, and he was ramrod straight with that thousand yard stare on his chalk-like face." A few days later, only four tanks returned to the AT-7 command post in the Samichon Valley. "We heard later that our CO, Captain Saunders, ripped the field telephone off the bulkhead of his bunker and shattered it to bits on the deck upon receiving a call from headquarters," Sarno said. "He was not happy to learn that his AT company had the dubious stigma of losing a $300,000.00 combat-loaded tank." The next day, the inexperienced lieutenant who had given the order to land the tank in choppy water, was seen being driven away in an MP jeep down the long, dusty road to Regiment.


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