A tale of a Vietnam swap
as told to Harold Ratzburg
“Our platoon was on either Fire Support Base (FSB) Spear or Pistol. We were probably on both several times. It’s hard to remember which during this particular time. We were working with an ARVN 155mm howitzer battery. It was the first and only time I recall being with ARVNs.
“I was looking for a souvenir. Since my non-existent Vietnamese matched quality of the howitzer crew’s non-existent English, I drew a picture of a WWII US MK-2 ‘pineapple grenade.’ They quickly came up with two grenades for me!
“I offered to trade them for two of our new ones, but they didn’t want them. They seemed happy to get rid of their old pineapples.
“Not knowing much about grenades, I figured that unscrewing the fuse would be the first step to disarming them. The fuses were in tight. I couldn’t loosen them.
“I approached a mechanic working on a generator and asked him for the loan of his pliers. He didn’t seem anxious to loan me any tools, saying, ‘You infantry guys borrow tools from me, and I never get them back.’
“I showed him the grenades and explained that I wanted to just unscrew the fuses. He gave me his pliers and asked me to take the grenades to the other side of the hill. He said, ‘If I hear an explosion, I’ll know not to expect my pliers back.’
“I complied and unscrewed the fuses far away from the mechanic. Next, I dumped out the explosives. They looked like smashed-up corn flakes. Then I washed out the bodies in a puddle.
“The only thing left was to set off the fuses. I pulled the pin on the first fuse and put it under a sand bag. In about 7 seconds, it went off, popping up the sandbag. I repeated the procedure on the second fuse. It went off in about 10 seconds. I then realized just how old these grenades were!
“Then I reassembled both grenades. I gave one to my friend, Burgess, and I kept the other. I carried that thing in my rucksack for a long time.
“My mother and father would send me film for my Instamatic camera in a soda can with the top cut off.This seemed like a perfect way to send home my new souvenir home. We were in the rear at Landing Zone (LZ) Sally when a film shipment arrived.
“Having heard that the Army checked all packages being sent home, I decided to treat the soda can as a ‘return to sender.’ I put the pineapple in the empty soda can and carefully taped up the package just like I received it and not disturbing the original mailing label. I told our company mail clerk that this was the extra lens from my camera that my parents had sent to me. Since I continued to explain that I had sold the camera to a guy from C Company, so I didn’t need the lens anymore. I wanted to ship it ‘return to sender.’ The clerk held the can in his hand, and asked me if I was sending home the bolt to a .50-caliber machine gun or something like that. I assured him that I wasn’t.
“I sent a letter to my parents telling them to expect the shipment, but my timing was off. The grenade arrived home before the letter. My dad, who was a World War II combat veteran, opened the can and found the pineapple staring at him. He later told me he had thought that the North Vietnamese had gotten hold of his address and mailed him a booby trap! Did I ever catch hell in my next letter from my dad,
“My 14-year-old brother wanted to play around with that grenade in the worst way, but my father hid it in his garage. I heard that my brother took the garage apart looking for it but never found the grenade.”
Please understand that the story above is not my story. It was written by a Vietnam Vet who I knew. I found it so interesting and well-written from a very personal viewpoint, that I felt most collectors would enjoy it. The Veteran served his time in Vietnam and came home with a mild case of PTSD. He simply wishes to notbe in the “spotlight." — Harold Ratzburg