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Appendix - Chris Sarno Memoir


Shina no Yoru (China Nights)

[Note from the author: "All the songs described below were popular in a four-year time period from 1950-1954. To this day, if I hear one of them, that past time/span comes right up into view. Music is a powerful trance to the past for pleasant memories or people we liked." - Chris Sarno]

BY Chris Sarno © 2000

Published in the Marine Corps
Tankers Association Magazine December 2000

Let me say this. Music intertwines our journeys through life. It can lift our spirits to the highest heights or it can make us sad and reflective. But I believe music is a staple of our human vale of tears. Music is the very sacred and awesome power effecting our sad and lonely lives.

Allow me to bring to bear the above emotions of escapism to print.

In December 1950, with the Korean War out of control, I volunteered for service into the Corps when a nervous President Harry Truman declared a "National Emergency." The Hit Parade (the music charts) of the day touted Guy Mitchell with his refrain, "The Roving Kind", along with Don Cherry’s, "Thinking of You." I had a comfy Pullman berth on the Seaboard Limited (passenger train) out of Boston’s South Station, all the way to the southern climes of the so-called asylum in South Carolina (MCRD Parris Island). Let me tell you true, there was no music at Boot Camp. What seemed a lifetime later, back home in Boston during my 10-day Boot Camp leave, the only music that I was able to hear in the numerous greasy-spoon restaurants was Perry Como’s "If."

During the month of April 1951, I was in fast company enduring Tent Camp #1 in Training and Replacement Command at Camp Pendleton. I do recall a World War II Platoon Sergeant singing cadence while he marched us to noon chow. It was The Brown’s version of "Sparrow in the Treetop." Then in May and June of that year, it was on to Tank School at Camp Del Mar where Cpl. Lou Storzinger would march all the School’s Battalion tanker and artillery Marines to the waiting 6x6 trucks for extensive combat training. Corporal Storzinger had the deep voice for close order drill, and he reveled in marching some 600 marines to the 6x6’s that were sitting just two hundred yards away. As we trooped past the sprawling chow hall, we heard Nat King Cole’s "Too Young" and "Red Sails in the Sunset" reverberating from the mess hall radios. During July, the 12th Replacement Draft was forming up and it was back to the main side area of Camp Pendleton for intensive close combat and rifleman training in the field.

In August 1951, we embarked on Navy troop transports and after a seeming lifetime on the high seas, we finally disembarked at Pusan, South Korea. It was a God-send to kiss off that grimy tub of a troop ship named the USNS General Meigs. We spent the next five days processing in a barbed wire holding pen. The hit tune on the Korean Hit Parade was the unforgettable, "She Ain’t Got No Yo-Yo [China Night]. Needless to say, this little Oriental ditty was our "Welcome Aboard" to the land of the morning calm. You could also include the hallmark expression which seemed to symbolize the Korean War veteran, "You’ll be SOORREE!."

It took us a while to acclimate to the tinny gook music, but before everyone’s 13-month combat tour was completed, we eventually turned into Asiatic Marines. How? By way of coined expressions such as "Ahh so" and "itty-wa deska", "Gook", etc. Most Marine outfits in one way, shape or form had a rear echelon pogue who had a Zenith-brand transoceanic long distance radio (the Korean War era’s version of a "boom box"). The radio hooked up to three large Marine Corps issue portable batteries which were acquired by bartering off boxes of C-rations with the Communications Section. Along with cigarettes, these two staples of the war were considered "the rate of exchange" in the shattered Korean economy. Thus well-equipped, we could now enjoy music at night in our makeshift "hobo jungles." That is, provided you didn’t have the watch or a machine gun outpost assignment. Radios changed hands when the owner was to be rotated. Someone bought it for $55.00. We were adept to fine tuning the radio skips, which would come in loud and clear from Nagoya, Japan at night, thanks to a Canadian soldier/DJ. During the day, too much military communications traffic prevented connections. But there was less military communication traffic at night, and those skips were allowed to reach us from Nippon (Japan).

"A" Company, 1st Tanks was assigned as Battalion Reserve during November, and the #1 hit tune was, "Cry" by Johnny Ray. I even hit the lottery one night when I caught a song request from a dark-haired beauty who I was writing to in Wilmington, Delaware. Dolores Winnington’s song dedicated to me was, "The Very Thought of You" sung by Doris Day. I remember Dolores cut quite a figure in the bathing suit photo she had sent me. Wow! And like a fool, I never did meet up with her.

For almost all of the month of December 1951, many of our tank crews were positioned atop the snow crusted "Punchbowl." We relieved the Charlie Company tankers there and they left us a beat up Japanese Victorola record player in our rat-infested bunker. That little wind up music box played scratchy sounding 78 rpm carbon recordings, one of which was der Bingle warbling, "Jingle Bells."

January and February 1952 there was no more music. We did have plenty of freezing, fighting, and gook incoming artillery barrages. Semper Fi, Mac! But come April, the Navy LST’s took us to the Western Front. In between direct-fire missions, Kay Starr belted out her famous tune, "Wheel of Fortune." By early June, while again assigned to the Battalion Reserve, the weather was hot and humid. Despite the weather, a lot of us had the strep throat virus that raged throughout the 1st Marine Division. Overworked corpsmen snarled, "It’s from over exposure to rat urine." Even though we were sick as sea dogs, my tank crew changed two sprocket hubs and a final drive. I think back how we crashed after each noon cow and listened to 15 minutes of the Armed Forces Radio show coming from Nara, Japan. There was Curt Massey and the lilting Martha Tilton teamed up to serenade us with good old country ballads. This musical interlude kept our morale up…along with our corpsman’s prescription to ward off rat fever, his eternal APC pills. Many decades later, I noticed Curt Massey’s obituary in the local newspaper and dashed off a note of condolence to Mrs. Massey. In my letter, I detailed how her husband’s songs in June of 1952 helped a host of us through a rough time. Being the gracious lady that she is, she replied to me and confided that my sentiments really lessened her burden of bereavement. She also truly thanked us for our stalwart service in war-ravaged Korea.

By July 1953, it was back into the line. We were very busy day and night with the bloody sieges at Bunker Hill. That military operation was an ugly morass of the new trend of positional warfare called "the outpost sieges." This was also President Truman’s penchant of what we call "limited warfare." That is, they talked peace but had us still fighting valiantly and endlessly for the next year. Casualties escalated dramatically. In August it was my turn to be rotated to the Land of the Big PX. Yee-haw! I joined the in-rear-with-the-gear pogues at the huge 8th Army Complex at Ascom City near the Korean port of Inchon. We woke up each morning to reveille and Debbie Reynolds singing, "Good Morning." Hell’s bells, this is survivors’ heaven. Indeed. I got mine. How you doing?

We boarded the USNS General Walker in late August and the tedious cruise finally climaxed as we silently shipped under the fabulous Golden Gate Bridge. As we pulled up to the dock, we heard the welcoming Marine band in dress blues sound off with "The Marines Hymn" and "Semper Fidelis." In no time, I hit the liberty beach in ‘Frisco and made the trek along that boulevard as a "Market Street commando." You could hear the strains of "Blue Tango" played by the Boston Pops while passing the music stores. A few of us stayed for five days at the Marines Memorial Club at Sutter and Mason streets. The general manager (then) was a retired USMC Major named Ames. He ran a tight ship then and I understand that "The Club" is still going full blast today and it’s still a nice spot to relax.

In summation, what was it all about? We fought the good fight and won our war in Korea. Ask any combat Marine who was there! As our epoch slowly slips out of focus, one memorable overture sums it all up, "Gone with the Wind."

Keep well and Semper Fidelis! - SSGT Chris Sarno - USMC Fleet Marine Force

1st Marine Division FMF Invades Cookie's Tavern
Source: Boston Herald, Wednesday, August 4, 1999
Reprinted with permission

Sarno and Wagner
(Click picture for a larger view)

The 1st Marine Division Association held its annual reunion at the Wyndam Hotel in downtown Philadelphia.  This year's record turnout with 5,000 combat Marine members was a very vocal roll call.  Local businessmen, Sgt. Jimmy "Wags" Wagner, a Vietnam combat Marine machine-gunner, dropped by the reunion site and extended an open invitation to the Marines: They were welcome to go to his popular establishment at Cookie's Tavern.

A plethora from the Boston Chapter, led by S/Sgt. Chris Sarno, made the forced march to South Philly and burst through Cookie's Tavern portals.  A recon party found three military marches on the juke box: "The Marines Hymn," "Anchors Away" and "Semper Fidelis," all recorded by maestro Arthur Fielder of the Boston Pops Orchestra.

With the volume on full blast, the inspiring music was met with bombastic cheering and USMC jargon.  "The Marines Hymn" was played endlessly and all present sang the three verses to a man: in order to be heard, one had to literally yell to his buddies within earshot.  It was just like a Marine slopchute aboard any Marine base.  With all this frenzied atmosphere, nary a cuss word was uttered.

Shortly thereafter, the word was passed throughout the Irish-Italian neighborhood that Cookie's Tavern was besieged by Marines of the 1st Marine Division FMF.  This ethnic enclave was composed of WWII, Korea and Vietnam war Marines.  They all jammed into Cookie's Tavern where all were now shoulder to shoulder celebrating in USMC fashion.  A cadre of local lassies were handy adding to the frivolity, indeed!

Sgt. Jimmy Wags serenaded the hoarse throng with a bevy of old Irish dittys and he hit the heartstrings of all.  Wags continued to entertain the troops, as he broke out his silver glockenspiel and expertly accompanied each rendition of "Semper Fidelis."  Even maestro Fielder would have smiled at Wags' musical acumen.

Raucous applause rose to a crescendo spurring Wags on and on.  Even "No Toes" Dolan, a pre-war 1940 DI, put a honey-blonde cutie through her paces, as she volunteered to portray a new recruit at MCRD, Parris Island, S.C.  She was a trooper and gave Dolan all he could handle much to the merriment of the SRO crowd.

Suddenly four of Philadelphia's finest forced their way into the slopchute.  They ordered us to keep the noise down to a road: fortunately all four police officers were former Marines and just left the parade deck shaking their heads.

Order was restored as Wags ushered in 15 pizzas, plus complimentary T-shirts and baseball caps to the members of the Boston Chapter, who were shit-faced by this time.

However, the get-together was far from over as S/Sgt. Chris Sarno, a Marine tanker of Korea, scrounged out a little space by the jukebox and politely asked the honey-blonde for a dance to Sinatra's "From Here to Eternity."  She readily accepted and Sarno thought he was on R&R in Kyoto, Japan and the Crown Colony of Hong Kong again.  His fantasy was short-lived by a Marine cut-in line formed for a twirl with the beautiful honey-blonde.  All of a sudden the roof was coming off the joint again, and it was photo op time with flash bulbs popping off like gook burp guns.

In summation, when combat Marines get together, the overwhelming comraderie is like super glue.  Sea stories of adventure and misadventure in the Fleet Marine Force permeated this Marine bastion called Cookie's Tavern in South Philly.

In our vast wanderings, nowhere have any of us of the 1st Marine Division Association been so graciously received and pampered by a combat Marine, wounded veteran of Vietnam, namely Sgt. Jimmy "Wags" Wagner.  His Irish wit and congeniality was never been matched at any of the reunions we attended, and we always show up for every annual reunion across the USA.

Once a Marine, always a Marine, and Sgt. Jimmy Wags is that precise personification.  Well done, Marine!  Being at Cookie's Tavern in South Philly was a great duty station, and our melancholy memories with Wags will live on with us forever.  Lock 'n' load!  Combat Marines are kin in whatever war Marines are sent in to win.  There are Marines, but then there are the combat Marines.

Once again, well done, Wags.  Sayonara babysan, gung-ho and lock 'n' load.  You are the greatest, Sgt. Jimmy "Wags" Wagner, USMC-FMF.


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