Falling on a grenade

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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. On November 21, 2010 in Marjah, Helmand Province, Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Marine Lance Corporal Kyle Carpenter threw himself upon a grenade, thrown onto a rooftop, to save a fellow Marine; sustaining injuries to his face, right arm and losing his right eye, he survived these wounds. Despite these rare instances, however, the odds of survival are extremely slim.

"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[edit]

  • On 1 July 1916 at the Battle of Thiepval Ridge in World War I, 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. 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. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor
  • 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 display of valor, his act saved 5 men from injury or death. He was awarded the Medal of Honor.
  • On November 26, 1950, during the Korean war, U.S. Army Sergeant John A. Pittman threw himself on the grenade, which was thrown in the midst of his squad, and absorbed the burst with his body. Sgt. Pittman survived his wounds and he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.
  • 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.[1] He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Distinguished Service.
  • On February 28, 1967 James Anderson, Jr. sacrificed his life by smothering a grenade with his body in the Vietnam War and was awarded a Medal of Honor.
  • On February 23, 1971, a M35 2½-ton cargo truck was ambushed by a squad of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) soldiers near An Khê. At one point during the firefight, 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 May 25, 1971 Michael Willetts smothered an explosive device planted at Springfield Road Police Station, Belfast, by a member of the Provisional IRA. In doing so, he saved the lives of several civilians, including two children. He was posthumously awarded the George Cross for his actions.
  • 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. He was awarded the Medal of Honor.[2]
  • 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. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Courage.
  • On September 29, 2006 in Iraq, U.S. Navy SEAL Michael A. Monsoor, was killed after falling on a grenade.[3] He was awarded the Medal of Honor.
  • 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. He was awarded the Medal of Honor.
  • 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.[4] He was awarded the George Cross.
  • In July 2010, Corporal Kyle Carpenter deployed to Marjah, Helmand Province, Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. On November 21, 2010, while joining his team to fight off a Taliban attack in a small village the Marines had nicknamed Shadier between two villages nicknamed Shady and Shadiest, Carpenter suffered severe injuries to his face and right arm from the blast of an enemy hand grenade; after-action reports state that he threw himself in front of the grenade to protect a fellow Marine. He was awarded the Medal of Honor.
  • 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.[5]
  • 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.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Online Hadracha Centrum". Hadracha.org. Retrieved 2014-02-20. 
  2. ^ "Corporal Jason L. Dunham, USMC (deceased)". Who's Who in Marine Corps History. United States Marine Corps History Division. Retrieved 19 July 2009. 
  3. ^ "SEAL falls on grenade to save comrades - US news - Military | NBC News". MSNBC. 2006-10-14. Retrieved 2014-02-20. 
  4. ^ Harding, Thomas (2008-07-22). "Royal Marine who jumped on grenade awarded George Cross". Telegraph. Retrieved 2014-02-20. 
  5. ^ "Soldier killed saving others receives posthumous award". Russia Today. Retrieved 2014-02-20.