In Memory

Donald Gaines

Pantagraph – February 6, 1967

“Soldier Killed by Grenade May Have Saved 3 Others”

A Bloomington soldier killed January 28in an explosion of a hand grenade near Fort Campbell, Kentucky, may have saved the lives of three persons, although two others did die with him in the burst, a Christian County, Kentucky Deputy Coroner said over the weekend.

The deputy, William Kennedy, said that he had ruled accidental death in the tragedy on the porch of a trailer home Pfc. Donald E. Gaines, 19, of 607 Vale and Fort Campbell, he was visiting.

Inquiry of the incident went to the Deputy Coroner after an Army Investigation Board statement expected last weekend failed to materialize.  Mr. Kennedy said that to his knowledge there will be no Army statement.

“I made my ruling – and it’s still open – from the findings in questioning the injured 8-year old boy,” Mr. Kennedy said.  “I’m sure if the Army had anything different they would have told me.  We work together closely.”

Three small boys found the grenade in an abandoned car in a field, took it to the nearby trailer home of one of them, James E. Donnegan Jr., 8, and handed it to the soldier to identify, Mr. Kennedy said.  Seconds later Private Gaines, the boy’s sister and a playmate were dead, and two other children were injured.

State Police at the time reported that the mother of the Donnegan children had warned the soldier not to touch the pin.  The Deputy Coroner expressed the possibility that Private Gaines could have mistaken the explosive for a toy since such imitations are available and since the boys were in uniform and playing soldier.  He further said that he has the Donnegan boy’s statement that Private Gaines pulled the pin on the grenade and looked at it as though to read something either on the pin of the grenade.

“I think he realized the danger and wanted to get the grenade out of the trailer,” Mr. Kennedy said.  “Once outside he could have hurled it 100 yards.  He had to dispose of it: I believe the soldier made every attempt to get it away from the children and Mrs. Donnegan, and the State Police agree with me.”

Mr. Kennedy said that his investigation showed that Private Gaines rose from the couch and hurried 10-12 feet out of the trailer and onto the porch before the grenade exploded.  “It’s just one of those tragic things that happen” he said.  “You’d have to go back months and months in an investigation as to how the grenade got into the car.  People don’t just come up and admit those things.”