I was born nine years after the end of WWII; immediately following the Korean War. Being of the post-war “Boomer” generation, many of the toys I had during my formative years were war toys. True, we also had cowboy pistols and rifles due to the preponderance of westerns on TV, especially Saturday afternoons. But one of the popular shows on prime time TV was Combat! starring Vic Morrow and Rick Jason. So, at various times, my neighborhood friends and I had toys that were replicas of WWII weapons.
As is the case today, toys were sold individually or in sets; meaning a .45 handgun could possibly come with a plastic commando knife and/or rank insignia to be stuck onto your clothes. One time I had a Thompson submachinegun, like the one carried my Sgt. Saunders (Morrow) on the TV show. I had a (smaller) version of the Browning M2 machinegun complete with tripod and several red “spent” cartridges that would eject when you fired the weapon. One of us in the neighborhood had a bazooka that launched big, yellow plastic shells. I had a plastic helmet that, especially when using the elastic chin strap, caused my head to sweat something fierce. I had a plastic canteen that I wore on my belt towards my rear. It had a screw-on cap, which still leaked quite profusely so, following a pitched battle or even a simple recon mission, both ends of me oft times ended up quite damp.
And I had a hand grenade.
And it was the grenade that got me into trouble.
But it was one of those perfect opportunities! There was no way I could have resisted!
When toys were cool
Okay, first let me explain how the toy worked. It was accurately modeled after the U.S. issued grenades of WWII. The “pineapple” part of the grenade was hollow and made from a very light-weight plastic. The handle and top assembly were metal. To “load” the grenade you flipped the handle up and over the top, thereby exposing the spring-loaded firing mechanism. Basically, it was a square piece of metal that was flipped back against a spring and then locked into place as you folded the handle back into its normal position. The pin was actually as functional as the original because it slid into place and kept the grenade from accidentally firing.
The key to this weapon was the Greenie Stik-M-Cap from Mattel. This cap was ingenious. Rather than caps which came in rolls, which were fed through a cap gun, the Greenie Stik-M-Cap came on individual sheets. They were circular caps and they were designed to be stuck, individually, onto shells that were then loaded into the gun; just like the real thing. And these Shootin’ Shells actually fired a gray plastic bullet! I used them with my cowboy revolver. What a great toy. You pressed the plastic bullet into the brass-colored, spring-loaded shell, placed a Stik-M-Cap on the back and loaded your gun. And you carried extra bullets on your gun belt! No more running around yelling, “Bang! Bang! Bang! I got you!” You actually were limited to six rounds in your gun and then had to reload. And you really had to hit your opponent! The bullets would fly a good ten feet or so. Ah, the lacerated retinas and blue faces as you hacked on tiny pieces of plastic bullets fired into your tonsil… Brings a melancholy moistness to the eye all these decades later…
Anyway, back to the grenade. You couldn’t tear off a regular cap and lay it into the grenade because it would fly out when you tossed it. But the Greenie Stik-M-Cap was perfect! You flipped back the arming hammer, affixed a Stik-M-Cap and then flipped the handle back and locked it into place with the pin. Then, when facing an overwhelming number of neighborhood enemy, you crouched low, pulled the pin and lobbed! Pow!
Worse than the F-bomb
So, I was maybe about ten-years-old. Apparently no one else in the neighborhood could come out to play, and I found myself in the house.
With my armed grenade hanging from my belt.
I was lackadaisically strolling down the hall when I passed the bedroom of one of my sisters. As I passed, out of the corner of my eye I saw my mother, her back to me, slightly bending over the bed, pulling up the blankets and smoothing the bedspread.
I reacted instinctively. One cannot hesitate when struck with instantaneous inspiration.
I shot past the door and quickly spun around, my back to the wall, arms slightly splayed, just like they did on Combat! I steadied my breathing and then shot a quick glance inside and then yanked my head back. She was still working. I swallowed and bent both arms at the elbows, bringing the grenade to my chest. I inhaled steadily but quietly as I pulled the pin. Then I lurched past the door, tossing the grenade and assuming a mirrored position on the opposite side of the door.
The grenade operated as advertised. The metal handle, being the heaviest part of the device, found the floor and released. The grenade flipped into the air as the hammer was freed and the spring slammed it over onto the Greenie Stik-M-Cap.
In the sparsely furnished room, the sound of the cap reverberated off the hardwood floor. The explosion was louder in the house than it had been outdoors; much louder than I expected. And the odor of the small amount of gunpowder hung more heavily in the air; filling my nostrils, as if attempting to suffocate me while my little brain brought to question the wisdom of my idea.
I remember my mother quite forcefully uttering some rarely-used words which may or may not have brought into question the validity of my heritage. And the sentence ended with …Billy! Odds were that she hadn’t seen me as I scooted past the door and had taken my position on the opposite side. But, somehow, she knew…
There was no hearing. No court martial. Punishment was swift and enduring. I found myself yanked by my upper arm and deposited into my room where I slumped on the floor for the duration. And I don’t recall ever seeing that hand grenade again.
Even today, though I sometimes feel there are so many people in the world at whom I’d consider tossing a grenade, I try to remember that my mom would be so mad at me…