The Souvenir

I have a hand grenade. It sits on my desk holding down pictures of old girl friends, unanswered letters and unopened bills. It's the Chinese version, crudely made, of a World War II German potato masher.

The base, cast from iron and the size of a baby food jar, creates shrapnel when the TNT inside detonates. There is a wooden handle, smooth and symmetrical, for throwing.

Of all the souvenirs I brought back from the war, the medals, maps, journals, photos, flags, and the rifle that shot me, the grenade is the only one left. The rest are lost forever. Auctioned in boxes when I let the storage bills go unpaid to buy dope instead.

To use the grenade, a wooden cap on the handle is removed. A waxed string connected to the cap is pulled, igniting a delay train. After three or four seconds, flame reaches a blasting cap and the grenade explodes. The first step though, is to remove the cap and pull the string.

That's what he was doing. I am certain of it. He was fumbling with the cap, reaching for the string. I looked to the rifleman on my right....the machinegunner on my left. They looked at me. I looked to him. Our eyes met. He drew back his arm. I killed him.

It was the School Solution. Three, quick two-round bursts. I aimed low and let the climb of the weapon bring the rounds, first into his belly, then into his chest. Already kneeling, he pitched onto his face.

Moving to the side, I kicked the grenade from his hand and rolled him onto his back. Our eyes met again. This time, he didn't look back. I felt no sorrow, no remorse of any kind. I was not afraid. I was alive.

In addition to his life, I took his carbine and his wallet. Checking for documents, I found pictures of his family, a smiling wife and two children.

Eddie Hopkins, my radio operator, was the first to congratulate me. "Way to go, Sir. You smoked that sumbitch." He pounded me on the back and offered a cigarette. "Tryin' to surrender and you lit his ass up. I love it!"

As an afterthought, I stuck the grenade, cap removed, string unpulled, into the side pocket of my fatigue pants.

For the rest of the patrol, eight more days, I carried it there. I felt its weight with each step. It rubbed a raw spot on the outside of my thigh. I threw it away twice and buried it once, only to pick it up again before we moved out.

Just before sunset the last day out, soldiers finished digging their foxholes while I heated turkey loaf and coffee.

" I swear, I thought he was going to throw the grenade." I spoke aloud to no one in particular. "I really did."

The soldier nearest me stopped digging, stuck his entrenching tool into the sand and wiped the sweat from his face.

"What difference does it make? Dumb bastard. Wavin' a grenade. You done the right thing, Sir. You wasted him."

Back at the airfield, Sergeant Reynolds removed the wooden handle. He worked slowly and dumped two tablespoons of TNT and a wad of Chinese newspaper from grenade's core. Taking the handle, he cut the blasting cap free with his pocket knife, then pulled the string. The delay train hissed and burned down to nothing. He rinsed the core clean of explosive with acetone and reinserted the handle.

"There you go, Lieutenant. Ain't nothin' but a paperweight now." Reynolds grinned and tossed the grenade to me. "Put it on your desk. It'll bring back memories some day."


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©Larry Spence, 1991-2009, All Rights Reserved.