Our instructor today reminded me of Don Knotts, the nervous deputy on the Andy Griffin Show. “This is a grenade,” said Sgt. Don in a shaky voice. “With an effective killing radius of five-to-ten feet. To activate, you hold this handle down against the base of the grenade with your right hand and pull the ring attached to this pin with your left hand. Once the pin is pulled, the grenade is live, but will not explode until you release the handle, which will pop off and trigger the device. There are an additional twenty seconds before the grenade explodes.”
“You will be going into the grenade pits in groups of three–two trainees and one instructor. You are to lob the grenade over the wall in front of you as far as you can–then duck and cover your head. To throw the grenade, cock your arm like this, next to your ear, and then throw as you would a football. Steel helmets are to remain on at all times. Any questions?”
Horowitz raised his hand. “What happens if you’re left handed?”
Sgt. Don said, “Good question. Hold the grenade with your normal throwing hand in the center of your chest, like this, and then with the opposite hand, reach over and pull the pin.”
Horowitz raised his hand again. “Is the grenade heavy?”
“The grenade only weighs about nine ounces. Any other questions? No? Let’s begin.”
Sgt. Don then divided us into two-man teams. Just my luck, I got partnered with Harry. We entered the first throwing pit, consisting of a timber-lined, U-shaped bunker built into a hill of dirt. Harry stood on the left, and I stood on the right, facing the target. Sarge stood behind us supervising. I gave a short prayer that the instructions had sunk into Harry’s brain.
“Jones, you’re first.” Sarge handed me a grenade. I held the weapon close to my chest, pulled the pin, looked through the small observation window at the target and with my left hand gave the grenade a heave over the five-foot wall. The three of us crouched down, covered our heads, and a few seconds later there was a loud explosion.
“Horowitz, your turn.” We watched in horror as Harry pulled the pin and threw it over the wall, leaving the grenade still in his right hand.
“Private, listen to me,” said Sarge. “Whatever you do don’t release the handle. Do you understand?”
Horowitz whined. “I knew I’d fail. I can’t throw with my right hand.”
“Transfer the grenade to your left hand, but don’t let up the pressure on the handle or the grenade will arm itself.”
Harry carefully transferred the grenade to his left hand, but his sweaty hands slipped off the handle. The three of us followed the handle as it fell in slow motion to the ground.
“THROW THE GRENADE NOW,” yelled Sarge.
Harry panicked, jerked around, and tossed the grenade toward the target. His wobbly pitch almost cleared the top of the wall, but instead bounced backward and landed smack in the middle of the training grenades box sitting at Sarge’s feet.
“RUN,” yelled Sarge, pushing Harry and me out the back of the bunker.
You didn’t need to tell me twice. Pretty sure I broke the world dash record that day while dragging Harry. Sarge kept pace step-for-step. Instructor Don ran next to Sarge, waving his hands in the air, and screaming like a girl, “I don’t want to die.”
Sarge yelled to the men in the other grenade pits to lie on the ground against the wooden walls for protection. The rest of the platoon scattered, trying to run as far away as possible before Harry’s grenade exploded.
We flung ourselves to the ground and covered our heads when we heard the first blast. Immediately after, a second, louder detonation turned pit number one, where we had stood moments before, into a mini-mushroom cloud of dirt, which rained down on us for several seconds. Thank God these practice grenades didn’t contain shrapnel like the real ones, just small explosive charges.
“Jesus Christ, Horowitz,” Sarge erupted. “I’ve been through two wars and never met a soldier as incompetent as you. For the safety of the platoon, you should be shot.” I felt sorry for Harry, but silently agreed, and began checking to see if any vital body parts were missing while trying to make my ears to stop ringing.
Horowitz sat up, his glasses dangling from one ear, wearing the dazed look of a deer caught in the headlights. “What happened?”
“I’ll tell you what happen numb nuts,” said Sarge, in his charming style. “You almost maimed more people in twenty seconds than the Viet Cong does in a week.”
“Sorry, Sarge. I threw the grenade as hard as I could. I told you I’m left handed.”
Wolinski growled, “Get the hell out of my sight before I shoot you.”
Harry walked away with his head hung down to his chest.
Thank God, no one got hurt; even the guys in pit two had their hearing return after an hour. We never did see Instructor Don again. For all I know, he is still running with his hands over his ears. Thus ended the lesson.
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