Military Wiki

Falling on a grenade refers to the deliberate act of using one's body to cover a live time-fused hand grenade, absorbing the explosion and fragmentation in an effort to save the lives of others nearby. Since this is almost universally fatal, it is considered an especially conspicuous and selfless act of individual sacrifice in wartime; in United States military history, more citations for the Medal of Honor have been awarded for falling on grenades to save comrades than any other single act.

Such an act can be survivable: 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. In 2008 near Sangin in Afghanistan Matthew Croucher used his rucksack to pin the grenade to the floor, and that and his body armor absorbed the majority of the blast. Despite these rare instances, however, the odds of survival are extremely slim. US Marine Corporal Jason Dunham died on April 22, 2004 from wounds sustained on April 14 attempting to use his PASGT helmet to shield himself and others from a grenade explosion.[1]

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.[2]

"Falling on a grenade" is also used colloquially in non-military contexts to indicate individual acceptance of a personally harmful or sacrificial task in an effort to protect a larger group; during a scandal, corporate leaders or politicians who attempt to draw negative attention away from their company or party by pleading guilt, publicly admitting culpability and drawing condemnation on themselves (at the cost of their freedom or career) are often said to have "fallen on a grenade".

Notable examples

  • On July 1, 1916 at the Battle of Thiepval Wood British army private William McFadzean of the 14th battalion, the Royal Irish Rifles threw himself on top of a box of mills bombs after the pin came loose on two of them whilst he was attempting to load the bombs into a bandolier. As a result of his action only one other man in the trench was injured in the resulting explosion. As a result of his actions private McFadzean was posthumously awarded the Victoria cross.
  • On December 19, 1941 at the Battle of Hong Kong, Canadian Army Company Sergeant Major John Robert Osborn jumped on a grenade, sacrificing himself to save his men. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
  • On November 7, 1943 at Bougainville, Marine Sergeant Herbert J. Thomas, Jr deliberately fell on a grenade, sacrificing himself protecting nearby Marines.
  • On September 1, 1950, near Yongsan, South Korea, U.S. Army Private First Class David M. Smith noticed an enemy grenade lobbed into his company's emplacement. PFC Smith shouted a warning to his comrades and, fully aware of the odds against him, flung himself upon it. Although he was mortally wounded by this, his act saved 5 men from injury or death.
  • On February 11, 1954, IDF private Nathan Elbaz was disarming grenades when he noticed one of the grenade's safeties had slipped. He grabbed the grenade and ran from the tent but realized he wouldn't be able to throw the grenade away without harming some of his friends, so he smothered the explosion with his body.[3]
  • On February 23, 1971, a M35 2½ ton cargo truck was ambushed by a squad of NVA soldiers near An Khê. At one point during the fire fight, an NVA soldier threw a fragmentation grenade into the truck's compartment. 21-year-old Specialist Four Larry G. Dahl was the only occupant who heard the grenade land into the truck. Realizing that there was not sufficient time to return it, he immediately threw himself on top of the grenade, saving his comrades' lives but at the cost of his own. Dahl was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
  • On April 14, 2004, near Husaybah, Iraq, Jason Dunham used his body and helmet to shield others from a grenade explosion - but died shortly afterward from his injuries.
  • On July 26, 2006, IDF Major Roi Klein, during the Battle of Bint Jbeil jumped on a grenade thrown into the house where Klein and his unit were present and stopped the explosion with his body.
  • On September 29, 2006 in Iraq, U.S. Navy SEAL Michael A. Monsoor, died after falling on a grenade.[1]
  • On December 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.
  • In 2008 near Sangin in Afghanistan, Royal Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Croucher used his body and rucksack to pin a grenade to the floor. Suffering "just a nose bleed" as a result [2].
  • On January 27, 2012 Russian MVD Spetsnaz Sergeant Evgeny Epov saved the life of several of his fellow soldiers during a raid against radical militants in Kizlyarsky District, Dagestan. Sgt. Epov was posthumously awarded with the Hero of the Russian Federation medal.[4]
  • On March 28, 2012, Russian military Major Sergei Solnechnikov pushed another soldier away from and fell on a grenade during training exercises at a base near Belogorsk. Maj. Solnechnikov was posthumously awarded with the Hero of the Russian Federation medal.


In Fiction

The concept of falling on a grenade has been used as a plot device in various fictional war stories

  • In an episode of the television show M*A*S*H, Luther Rizzo plays a joke on Charles Winchester by dropping a dummy grenade on the floor, but to Rizzo's surprise, Winchester promptly falls on the grenade to save Rizzo's life, only later to realize the grenade was fake.
  • In the 1971 World War One British film Zeppelin German Colonel Hirsch played Anton Diffring falls onto a grenade to save the new type Zeppelin LZ36 and his men as they retreat from attacking British troops after a failed secret raid at a Scottish Castle to steal the Magna Carta. The Grenade explodes seriously wounding Colonel Hirsch.[5]
  • In the 1988 13th episode called "USO Down" of the Vietnam War American drama television series Tour of Duty USO rock band member 'Long John' Vivian played by actor Patrick O'Bryan saves the life of US army Staff Sergeant Clayton Ezekiel "Zeke" Anderson played by Terence Knox by pushing Zeke to safety before deliberately falling on the grenade thrown at them by a mortally wounded Vietcong fighter Zeke had shot. The grenade explodes instantly killing Long John. Zeke is left unhurt.[6]
  • In the 2002 Vietnam War film We Were Soldiers that dramatizes the 1965 Battle of Ia Drang an unnamed American 7th Cavalry soldier falls onto a grenade to save his fellow soldiers one of whom is seated back to back with him during an attack by the North Vietnamese Army to overrun the US unit.
  • In the 2005 South Korean film Welcome to Dongmakgol set in Korea during the Korean War South Korean Army Second lieutenant Pyo Hyun-chul played by Shin Ha-kyun jumps on to a grenade accidentally dropped by another tiered soldier to save the all the other soldiers and a group of innocent civilians. The grenade proves to be a "dud" failing to explode and Pyo Hyun-chul survives what would have been a certain death.[7]
  • In the 2008 science fiction film Starship Troopers 3: Marauder written and directed by Ed Neumeier an unnamed trooper of the United Citizen Federation defending a base on the planet Roku San falls on an explosive "Bombadier Bug" that's blows up killing him instantly during an assault on the base by the Bugs.
  • In the 2011 American film Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve Rogers played by Chris Evans proves his worthiness for the Super Soldier Program to Colonel Chester Phillips played by Tommy Lee Jones by diving onto a dummy grenade thrown by Col Phillips without warning at his squad while they were in training.[8]
  • In the 2012 first-person shooter video game, Call of Duty: Black Ops II a standoff in the 1st level between Alex Mason who is holding the primary antagonist of the game Raul Menendez at gunpoint and Cuban Army troops in a radio shack ends when Menendez produces a grenade pulls the pin and drops it on the floor. The two Cuban soldiers jump onto the grenade smothering the explosion. Both Menendez and Mason survive although Mason is immediately forced to flee.[9]
  • In the 2012 American war movie Act of Valor depicting a United States Navy SEALs team hunting a group of Al-Qaeda terrorists who are trying to smuggle themselves into the US to carry out terrorist attacks, they find the group trying to cross the border from Mexico using an illegal Cartel tunnel . Whilst in pursuit one terrorist drops an F1 fragmentation grenade onto the SEAL team. The teams leader Lieutenant Rorke sees the grenade, shouts a warning to the others and then dives onto the grenade. The grenade explodes mortally wounding him although the rest of the team are left unhurt.[10][11][12]


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