The Dead Grenade That Wasn’t Dead

(In my true police/detective books, I wrote an essay called, “Most Dead Ever,” a compilation of the calls and cases I went on where the tally was high to horrific. Here is one…)

1970s. North of our Army base in the U.S. was an enormous artillery range. Troops were constantly blowing up all kinds of big and small ordnance. For those not familiar, “ordnance” is defined as:

“All munitions containing explosives, nuclear fission or fusion materials, and biological and chemical agents. This includes bombs and warheads; guided and ballistic missiles; artillery,
mortar, rocket, and small arms ammunition; all mines, torpedoes, and depth charges; demolition charges; pyrotechnics; clusters and dispensers; cartridge and propellant actuated devices; electro/explosive devices; clandestine and improvised explosive devices; and all similar correlated items or components explosive in nature.”

A Dud defined: A dud is all of the above that didn’t go boom.
Now, enter the ordnance, the grenade. And enter then, the dud hand grenade story. Officially also – “DUD-a thrown grenade that failed to detonate after the expected fuze time has elapsed.”

As I said, artillery troops were always out on the northern ranges, blowing all kinds of stuff up. And a small percentage are duds. As the later investigations discloses – One fine morning, out on a said field, a young private stumbled upon what appeared to be a very old hand grenade. He closed in on it and looked it over. No pin. No lever. Hmmmm. A dud, he presumes. What fun!

He threw some rocks at it. His buddies giggling nearby. Nothing. Deadness. He hit it with a stick. Then he kicked it and jumped back. It bounced across the rocky, dry terrain. He picked it up, tossed it up and down a few times and then stuck it in his jacket pocket. What a coup. What a toy.! A dud grenade!

The unit took a long, one-hour bouncy ride in the back of a deuce-and-a-half truck. The private pulled the grenade from his pocket and declared to those around him, “Look what I found!”

The others leaned away, aghast. But it became clear by his manipulations and juggling, it had to be a dud.

Once at their multi-story barracks building, they bailed out of the trucks, unloaded and hit the showers. The private went to his multi-person quarters and tossed the grenade on his bunk. He combed his wet hair, got in casual clothes – civvies – picked up his dud grenade and walked to the day room (TV, pool tables, a rec room, etc.) for some fun and games with his new toy.

He got to the day room door and peeked in. He saw many of his friends day-rooming about in there. Some were with him on the training day, and some not.

“GRENADE!” he yelled. He tossed the dud grenade into the middle of the room, then he ducked back into the hall, just for effect. Big joke.

The so called dud hit the floor and exploded. It blew with all its originally designed and planned intent. BAM! In the middle of the day room.

Our private and other nearby troops in the hall and other rooms ran to the door. The room was a bloody mess. Shreds of the room still floating in the air, they said. One or two seemed dead. Others wounded. Dying. Splinters everywhere. Lots of blood and guts and whines, yells and screams. The first instinct of bystanders was to call for an ambulance. Someone did, and the hospital called the police.

I was one of the units dispatched. I was assigned that day to the patrol district next to this one, or maybe as a rover? I just can’t remember.  When I arrived, I was not the first. The district police car and the patrol sergeant’s car were there and several ambulances. At the moment, I was not clear exactly what had happened, nor was our police dispatcher clear either. We only knew that some kind of a “bomb” went off on the third floor.

 

A sample photo of the actual building, another day.

 

 

Hearing of a possible “bomb,” as I parked, I looked up to survey the building. I didn’t know what to expect. Was the huge barracks building bombed? By whom? By what? I saw broken glass in some third story windows and curtains flapping in and out with the wind.

Soldiers were standing outside, looking up too. As I got close to the main doors, someone told me a grenade touched off up there. I entered the building, climbed the stairs to the third floor, and saw the commotion in the hallway.

When I stepped in the room, it looked like some 8 or 10 guys were pretty hurt. Another two or three were slightly hurt. Some laid dead still, mashed and abandoned. The room looked like, well, like a small bomb went off in it! I wandered around and tried to help out where I could, but the paramedics had done their triage assessment and were hard at work. Plus, some of the unit cadre were Nam vets and were already pitching in with the EMTs.

I walked out of the room and asked some Sergeants in the hall what had happened. They pointed to the kid who threw the “dud” in. I spoke with him. Our patrol sergeant walked up and listened to us talk it out. The kid was practically crying and in real shock. The district MP (military police) came over to us.

The Sarge pulled us aside and told the district MP to arrest the kid.
“For what Sarge?” the district MP asked. “What charge?”
“I don’t know. For something. Charge him with something,” he said. “We have to arrest him for this. Manslaughter. Something. Negligent something.”

Then the Sarge’s portable radio announced that, “CID was in route.”
“Ten-four,” he said into the radio, and told us, “Good. Okay. We’ll let CID decide what to do with him.”

We stuck around until two CID investigators (our FBI, more or less) arrived. We filled them in and pointed out the kid. They looked around and marched the kid off to one of the nearby offices. And we were ready to leave. As the Lone Ranger would say, “Tonto, our work here is done.” A few hours later I had to go and give blood at the hospital. Three or four troops died, best I can recall.

I have thrown a few grenades. I have even qualified as expert on the old Army, grenade throwing range. I got the targeting knack quickly. It was like throwing a football only heavier, so I aimed higher than the target to offset the weight, be it a window or whatever set up we were supposed to blow up.  I always joke about how cavalier vets and movie actors are about these small bombs hanging off their uniforms, in comparison to the very first ones they hand you and you baby them like they are nitroglycerin. 

But they are certainly no joke. Very generically speaking, the grenade kill zone is 5 meters or 16 feet. The injury range is 15 meters pr 50 feet. Shrapnel can go even further. A hand grenade, especially an older one, ’70s and pre-’70s had a varying reputation back then. Some called them as devastating and some didn’t. There are lots of fascinating, jaw-dropping stories. They weren’t all always perfect like the distances  above. I guess it was situational.

But that “dud” took a toll on the day room and the unit that late afternoon, and also took a toll on my memory. 

 

 

“If you did not drop it? Don’t pick it up!”

 

 

More on this…

Military warns – Leave unexploded ammunition and war trophies alone!

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Hock’s email is HockHochheim@ForceNecessary.com

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