Apr 022024

When you publish a small-town newspaper, everybody knows you. It’s kind of like being a celebrity, or at least a big fish in a small pond. Sometimes that was nice. I won’t lie, occasionally we got some special seating in restaurants and free movie or concert tickets, things like that. Other times it was a real pain in the rear end. I can’t tell you how many calls I got at home in the middle of the night because someone got arrested for DUI and wanted me to write a story about how unfair the cops were to them. Or somebody would stop me in a restaurant or in a grocery store to complain about something I had written in that week’s edition that they disagreed with. It all goes with the job. But dealing with hand grenades? No one ever told me about that in a journalism classroom!

When I was running my weekly newspaper in the White Mountains of Arizona, I received a call at my office one day from a woman named Julie, who was, as they say, large and in charge. Julia came from someplace in Georgia or the Carolinas, as I recall, and brought her strong accent with her when she moved west. When I answered the phone, she told me who she was and then asked, “You were in the war, weren’t you? What do you know about hand grenades?” I told her I knew that they went boom and that they were not something to fool around with, and asked her why.

Julie told me that her father had died a year before, and when they went back to the old home place to clean it out, she had brought back a bunch of his stuff. Included in that stuff was a hand grenade that he had used for a paperweight for as long as she could remember. Julie told me that It had been rattling around under the back seat of her car ever since, but her teenage sons found it and had been playing with it. She wasn’t concerned until a neighbor told her he was sure it was live. She wanted me to come and check it out. I asked her why she didn’t call the police department, and she told me that she didn’t like cops because they were always picking on her kids

I’m sure that was true, and I’m sure that attention was necessary, because her two teenage sons acted like they had been raised by wolves. As I recall, one was 13, and one was 15 at the time, and they were always into some mischief. I’m not talking about pranks like stealing cigarettes and smoking out behind the barn. I’m talking about crazy stuff.

For example, they hated their stepfather. Though I didn’t know the man, everyone spoke well of him in town, and I don’t know what their problem with him was. But I recall Julie telling me that he was in the bathtub one day when they came in and tried to throw a radio into the water with him “just to see what would happen.” Fortunately, the extension cord they used wasn’t long enough and came unplugged before the radio hit the water and fried the poor guy.

I told Julie I would come by and take a look at what she had, even though I was sure it was probably an inert dummy grenade. A couple of hours later, when I pulled up in front of her house, the boys were out in the front yard throwing it back and forth at each other, and then one picked up a baseball bat, and the other tried to pitch it to him. He missed, and the grenade landed between the two of us. One look at it and I about wet my pants!

I saw a lot of hand grenades when I was in the military, and I threw my share of them. But this one predated my days. It looked to be an old World War II “pineapple grenade” (see below) as they were called at the time. It was covered in dirt and rust, but what scared the heck out of me was that the spoon was rusted almost completely off of it, as was the safety pin that held the spoon in place.

For those not familiar with hand grenades, the handle is called the spoon, and when you pull the pin and throw the grenade, the handle comes off, which then releases a spring-loaded firing pin, which in turn strikes the primer in the grenade and causes the explosion. This thing was real, and it was dangerous!

It took me a minute or two to get Julie’s fool kids away from it and knowing I would probably have to beat them with the baseball bat if I left it where it was, then I very gently picked the grenade up and took it into the cinderblock garage next to their mobile home,  as far away from everybody as I could get it. I hoped that if the damn thing did go off it would be somewhat contained. Then I called my buddy Rusty, who was a lieutenant with the police department, and told him what was going on. Rusty immediately called the Department of Public Safety bomb disposal unit, asking for their assistance. Then he drove to Julie’s house to meet me.

Rusty and a couple of other officers ordered the neighbors on both sides of Julie’s house and the one across the street to leave and blocked off the street. It was probably an hour or more later when local officers met a DPS helicopter from Flagstaff at our small airport and brought two bomb disposal guys to the scene. They had all the goodies, including protective suits and hoods and gloves, and some type of lead box that was used to transport explosives. But they were sure that all this was just a waste of their time, telling Rusty that it was probably a cigarette lighter made to look like a hand grenade.

Rusty told them that he had not seen it himself, but if I told him it was a live hand grenade, it was live. My little fat self didn’t impress them, and they replied with something like, “Sure it’s real” and went into the garage, telling Rusty that he owed them dinner if they were right and I was wrong.

We were standing quite a distance away, but we still heard one of them say, “Oh shit” as soon as he laid eyes on the grenade. Their attitude changed in a hurry!

Carefully putting the grenade into their lockbox or whatever the thing is that they transported in, it was loaded into the back of a pickup truck and secured in place. Then, with sirens blaring and roof lights flashing, we caravanned to the cinder pit a few miles away that everybody used for target shooting. Making everybody stay far away, the bomb disposal guys gingerly opened the box and placed the grenade at the bottom of the pit. They attached some kind of blasting cap or something to it and ran wires up the hill to where we were standing. They had just started connecting the wires to the detonator when the grenade blew up on its own. Being old and in poor shape, the blast wasn’t as strong as modern hand grenades I have thrown, but if you had been anywhere near it, it would have likely killed you or at least torn you up pretty badly.

Needless to say, those two bomb disposal guys bought dinner for Rusty and myself both, and I think the next time they went out on a call like that, they probably weren’t so cavalier about what they might find.

Thought For The Day – Have you ever met someone so stupid that you feel bad for their dog?

Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

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