I had been in country for a few weeks and returning from my first combat patrol with a platoon of crack Vietnamese Infantry (CIDG). As was their custom, the patrol halted along a small river that ran between the mountains and the villages to kill a few VC fish. They traded the catch for beer in the village.
I spoke no Vietnamese so went along as the Trung Si spaced the fishermen along the bank at five meter intervals. He stationed me in the center and placed a Mark 26 (fragmentation grenade) high explosive lure in my hand. At this point, I still did not understand what we were doing and was too intimidated to ask.
Now, if you've never thrown a live grenade, the first one can be a nerve wracking experience. Few make it out of basic training without having thrown a grenade. Fewer still complete Infantry AIT without having done so. No one goes through basic, AIT, and SF training without tossing at least one hand grenade. No one except me. I drew KP in basic, guard duty in AIT, and donated blood on grenade day in SF training. My first grenade toss was in Vietnam.
With thirty men lined along the bank, five meters apart, the sergeant yelled orders in Vietnamese; and I followed the actions of those around me like an imposter in a line of June Taylor dancers. My hand shook as I drew out the pin. At the command, everyone lobbed their lures into the deep center of the river. I, on the other hand, hauled off and drew upon my all-star little league pitching prowess and threw overhand, hurling my little bomb clear across the river to stick in the mud bank on the far side, not forty feet away.
My eyes grew wide as I stared at the olive drab indent in the bank. No one else seemed to notice. Seconds later, a staccato of muffled thumps churned the water followed by one loud explosion that sent mud and shrapnel in a fan across the water toward us. All heads turned in my direction as the big bang came from directly to my front.
After ascertaining that no one had been hit, the other American sauntered over as dozens of fish floated belly up. He placed his arm on my shoulder and said, "Good thinking, Hoffman. You got all the ones that tried to escape by leaping out of the river."
The fishing was good that day. We caught our limit, drank a few 33s, and went home.