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  • Tom Boyd

My 18th Birthday

I spent my 18th birthday (September 8th) in army basic training. In the 6th week of basic training every recruit threw a live grenade and this day in 1966 was my turn to do so.

The procedure was that the recruit would squat in a shallow hole on a concert pallet and facing him would be his grenade buddy–the drill instructor. The step by step process would end with the two standing up, waiting three seconds (I didn’t wait) and the recruit tossing the grenade over a four foot concert wall and both ducking down. In the event the grenade was dropped or did not get over the wall the procedure was to kick or toss the grenade under the pallet where there was a hole for that purpose. Some yards back behind us there was a shielded platform where the officers and others could safety observe the actions.

This presented two problems (1) in practice with a weighted dummy grenade I could barely get it to go a few yards and (2) I am left handed and left handled soldiers hold the grenade in their left hand and held upside down with pin to be pulled from the bottom rather than the top. This was a scary combination to the drill instructors and perhaps to the recruit. We had heard tales of mishaps in previous training companies.

The company master (Top) sergeant, already a Vietnam veteran, and an old man in his mid-30s elected to be my grenade buddy. As he had a choice he clearly was a leader as he could have passed the assignment to another drill instructor. (They may have felt they had cause to fear me with a live grenade and none of them had been to Vietnam yet).

As we waiting our turn for the toss and going thru the steps I realized that the Top was nervous if not afraid and rightly so as we can all understand. It was the first time I had observed that behavior and it puzzled me given the “safe” training conditions and his combat experience. It also was a blessing to me as it calmed me down and made me realize for the first time in my life that I was not the only nervous or scared person. My toss went over the wall and I heard from others it did not go very far.

Basic training was hell (Degrees of Hell, blog 4/15/14 ) and was the preclude to Vietnam (My War Days, blog 7/29/14,

I did not ever again toss a live grenade for which I and my fellow soldiers were forever grateful.

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