By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
Apparently last week’s story about a couple who dug up a grenade in a Portales front yard isn’t the first time hand grenades have made news in our burgh.
I may have the answer to how last week’s grenade got there as well.
Few recent stories have captured the public’s attention like that of Steve and Margaret Hodge who found a grenade as they were tilling up Steve’s dad’s front yard. Police and Cannon Air Force Base Explosive Ordnance Disposal crews couldn’t tell for certain whether or not the grenade was live so EOD ended up destroying it with a boom of their own making.
The Associated Press picked up my story and wanted my photos. EOD wanted photos, because it was the young man who disposed of the grenade’s first real-life callout. My wife and mom said they didn’t really need to hear that I’d been out taking pictures of a bomb squad. People stopped me and wanted to talk about what happened and I got a couple of pretty interesting e-mails.
Tony Gennaro, a retired Eastern New Mexico University wildlife biology professor, wrote detailing a grenade episode he had upstairs in Roosevelt Hall about 30 years ago.
“Two of my students ran up the stairs of the museum in great haste,”Gennaro said. “One of them said, ‘Hey Doc, look what we found on the Natural History Preserve?’ The preserve is near the ENMU football field and is used by biology faculty for instruction and research. The student handed the grenade to me. I examined it, and from my own military experiences, noted that it was not a practice grenade. The handle and pin were absent, and a lead plug sealed the end of the device. This was a live fragmentation grenade, know as the pineapple.
“One of the students said, ‘Don’t worry Doc, we tossed it several times, and it didn’t go off, so we tossed it in back of the truck and brought it to you.’ I imagined how many times that grenade bounced up and down during its nine-mile travel from the preserve to the university.”
Gennaro said he carefully carried the grenade downstairs to the concrete-walled basement while Cannon EOD was notified. He said later an AP story talked about a live grenade that was found buried on the ENMU football field. Not quite accurate — but very dramatic.
Gennaro said it was theorized that years ago, someone pulled the pin on the grenade and tossed it into a garbage pit on the natural history plot, but it didn’t explode.
Another e-mail, this one from my close friend Ted Glasscock, may explain what last week’s grenade was doing in that yard.
Glasscock says the house in question was once inhabited by the Whitten family. Father Eldon Whitten was the local justice of the peace and Glasscock ran with a crew that included sons Leo and Richard. Trouble and adventure was known to follow this crew.
“The house on Chicago was our main headquarters for all sorts of youthful experiments while we were in junior high and high school,” Glasscock said. “Being that age in life we were fascinated by all things military, and especially airplanes. This brought us to make many trips to the lot next to Surplus City, where all sorts of castoff military equipment was dumped in piles in a lot covering a quarter of the whole block.
“We would find all sorts of treasures we couldn’t live without, and would pool our paper route money to purchase them. We had all sorts of things, and as I recall at least one dummy grenade. Most of this stuff was just laying around in the Whitten’s garage or yard. It just kinda ended up where we lost interest in it. I believe this may be the origin of the grenade. … It was probably 40 years ago when we were playing with that stuff.”