Falling on a grenade refers to the act of lying on top of a live hand grenade, usually with the intention of saving others nearby.
In World War II at Bougainville in the South Pacific, Marine Sergeant Herbert J. Thomas, Jr. deliberately fell on a grenade, killing himself and protecting nearby Marines. Such an act can be survivable - it is recommended to place a helmet directly over the grenade, and then lie on top of the helmet. Most grenades only have a small explosive content, and the fragments they throw are weak enough to be contained by a modern PASGT helmet. In World War II Jack Lucas, in the battle of Iwo Jima, placed two grenades under his steel M1 Helmet and himself before they exploded. Lucas lived, but spent the rest of his life with over 200 pieces of shrapnel in his body. Despite advances in helmet technology, however, the odds of survival are slim. US Marine Corporal Jason Dunham died on April 22nd, 2004 from wounds sustained April 14th in an attempt to save nearby Marines using the helmet technique and was posthumously awarded a Medal of Honor. He is the subject of The Gift of Valor, a book by Michael M. Phillips. An alternative means of smothering a grenade was used by Matt Croucher- his backpack and body armour absorbed the majority of the blast. He was awarded the George Cross, the highest medal available to UK soldiers in the absence of the enemy.
This action has been used as a plot device in war stories. For example, in an episode of the television show M*A*S*H, Luther Rizzo plays a joke on the haughty Charles Winchester by dropping a dummy grenade on the floor. Much to Rizzo's surprise, Winchester promptly falls on the grenade.
The volitional act of giving up one's life to save others also comes up in philosophy or evolutionary psychology when discussing concepts such as altruism and egoism. The concept also frequently appears in popular culture as a metaphor for "taking one for the team."
- On February 11, 1954, Natan Elbaz, a Private in the IDF's Givati Brigade, was disarming grenades when he noticed one of the grenade's safeties had slipped and the grenade was now armed. He grabbed the grenade and ran from the tent while warning his comrades. When he realized he wouldn't be able to throw the grenade away without harming some of his friends, he cushioned the grenade and the blast with his body, killing himself and protecting the lives of soldiers nearby. For this action Natan was posthumously awarded the Israeli Medal of Distinguished Service, Israel's third highest decoration, and a base outside Be'er Sheva, Camp Natan (מחנה נתן) was named in his honor.
- On July 26, 2006, Roi Klein, a Major in the IDF's Golani Brigade jumped on a grenade during the Battle of Bint Jbeil in the 2006 Lebanon War, when a hand grenade was thrown into the house where Klein and his unit were present. Klein told his men "Report that I've been killed" and subsequently jumped on the live grenade and stopped the explosion with his body. The soldiers reported that Klein recited the Jewish prayer, Shema Yisrael, as he jumped on the grenade. For his actions during the war Klein posthumously received the Medal of Courage, Israel's second highest decoration.
- United States Navy SEAL Michael A. Monsoor, died on September 29, 2006 in Iraq after falling on a grenade.
- On Dec. 4, 2006 in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, 19 year old U.S. Army Spc. Ross A. McGinnis was killed instantly when he used his body to smother a grenade, saving the lives of four nearby soldiers.
Notes and references
- Wright, Robert (Jan. 24, 2001). Fittest of the Survivors. Slate.