Police Station Evacuated When Elderly Man Brings in a Mortar Shell

The offending mortar, via clickondetroit.com.

A Michigan man caused a bit of excitement when he brought an unexploded mortar shell to the Sterling Heights police station. So much excitement that the police promptly evacuated their HQ, along with a nearby library, district court, and a high school.

The man — who was as yet unidentified — apparently meant no harm. He simply had “found” an old mortal shell 65 years ago and had kept it ever since. He simply wanted to dispose of the round, wasn’t sure how to go about it, and figured that the local Five-O might be a good resource in that endeavor.

After the area was evacuated and secured, the Michigan State Police swept in “properly handle and dispose of the mortar,” which probably wasn’t that difficult, given that the elderly shell hadn’t exploded for a while. There’s always time for safety, I suppose.

Any ideas from the Armed Intelligentsia on where that shell came from before it wound its way into suburban Detroit? Sixty-five years would put it in 1952, smack dab in the middle of the (active) Korean Conflict, but it could have been much older.


  1. avatar MLee says:

    Boy now that was dumb! He could have sold that on E Bay or Craigs List.

    1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      … and without a background check!

      1. avatar MLee says:

        Everyone knows that 40% of gun show or online mortar sales are done with no background check! 😉

  2. avatar Maggie says:

    Looks like a 60mm M69 Practice round. If so it would have propellant but no explosive. Still dangerous. Probably came from local army base.

    1. avatar M2AP says:

      How would it still be dangerous? Even if the lifting charge were still intact, that inert shell isn’t going anywhere without a tube. It’s missing the cheese wheels too, so it’s not a fire hazard.

      1. avatar jwtaylor says:

        If it fell it could break a toe!

      2. avatar Chicago Steve says:

        I love the smell of nitro in the morning……

      3. avatar Mark says:

        A round with no cheese charges is set at what is called “charge zero” and can still go a ways. It’s the lowest charge.
        Modern 60mm mortars can be fired in hand held mode with no bipod assembly at charge zero and one.

        1. avatar M2AP says:

          How far would it go though without the tube? I’d imagine a it would not go as far as as a .22 round thrown into a fire. Without a tube/barrel, it’s harmless.

      4. avatar Mark says:

        Depending on the tube angle charge zero can take the round several hundred yards. Even not contained, that much force in a small area might be distracting.

    2. avatar Will from Oregon says:

      Flash holes appear empty, looks like a fired round to me

  3. avatar Muzzle Device says:

    There’s always time for safety, I suppose.

    Are you stupid or do you just play stupid on the internet?

    1. avatar Johannes Paulsen says:

      You seem nice! Thanks for reading!

    2. avatar Big Bill says:

      That whooshing sound you heard….
      Was sarcasm going right over your head.

  4. avatar Isaac says:

    These happen from time to time, growing up on post we were occasionally warned not to pick up or play with ordnance… and I know a significant majority of EOD calls in rural ND/MN are either “grandpa brought [insert ordnance name here] back from the war” or grandpa was blowing up stumps way back when.

    Rule of thumb: if it can explode and hasn’t exploded yet that thing ain’t safe it’s just sleeping (and they get cranky when they get woken up!).

    1. avatar BLoving says:

      Most of us have heard stories of battlefields in France that are still off limits due to the unexploded ordinance still in the ground from WWI! Every few years it seems we still hear stories of a farmers tractor getting blown up in that region too.
      Old shells are not toys, doorstops or knick knacks… they’re bombs.

      1. avatar Isaac says:

        We never had much dealings with France… but in Korea they had a bunch of issues with that (particularly with new construction around Camp Paige).

    2. avatar Mark says:

      Every so often a round flies off the reservation so to speak from nearby Camp Ripley and lands in nearby Pillager.


      1. avatar Isaac says:

        Yup mom lives over by camp Jim… some times PFC Snuffy gets something wrong (it’s kinda why they do training at camp Riply).

        Kinda like the farms Ft. Riley occasionally blows up with a long round or two.

  5. avatar jwtaylor says:

    Ah… story time with Doc.

    Oh so many years ago, back when the world was new and JDub was young, a very old Pashtun man brought a land mine to my tiny FOB in southern Afghanistan.
    He was very angry. He was holding an anti-tank mine, with it’s 2lbs of RDX inside. He was angry because he remembered when we put it there in the first place. We didn’t, but he didn’t comprehend that we, or NATO, were not the Russians that put the mines there some decades before. He was absolutely furious. So he grabbed that mine and took it to the nearest coalition force, which was us, even though we were Americans. Whatever, we all look the same. Through an interpreter, it was obvious that he wasn’t trying to hurt us, he was just pissed and wanted to get rid of the mine in a place that wouldn’t hurt his sheep. He wanted us to “take it back”.
    We had absolutely no intention of taking it back, and our shouting in multiple languages and raised rifles made it very clear that he would not be allowed inside the gate, and that if he tried to get any closer or to climb over any of the T-Barriers he would be shot. A lot. We were all pretty clear about that.
    In his anger and frustration, he stood up, held the mine over his head, and slammed it down, right on the other side of the T-Barrier.
    His lower body, everything below his hips and behind the barrier, were completely in tact. The rest of him was aerosol.

    1. avatar EGB says:

      So who informed the gentleman’s family & what did that SITREP look like?

      1. avatar jwtaylor says:

        No idea, not us. A UXO exploding without hostile intent may not have even warranted making into any kind of SIGACTS report, but I don’t know.

    2. avatar strych9 says:

      This reminds me of the warning story I was told at one point about “Why we don’t exit a helicopter to the rear”.

      1. avatar Ben says:

        Well, most helicopters, anyway…

    3. avatar Geoff PR says:

      “His lower body, everything below his hips and behind the barrier, were completely in tact. The rest of him was aerosol.”

      A really mind-blowing experience…

    4. avatar Johannes Paulsen says:

      God, that’s insane.

  6. avatar pete says:

    Sea mine!

  7. avatar Mister Furious says:

    A Michigan man caused a bit of excitement when he brought an unexploded mortar shell to the Sterling Heights police stationary.

    As opposed to an exploded mortar…

    1. avatar Big Bill says:

      “Put it right over here, next to the hot water heater.”

  8. avatar strych9 says:

    I have this mental image of an old guy slowly crossing a parking lot carefully cradling this mortar shell while someone in the background says “Incoooooommmmmmiiiiinnnggggg…Very slowly!”

  9. avatar former water walker says:

    Hey shite happens. Millions of unexploded ordnance in this world. It sure looks cool though:)

    1. avatar Mark N. says:

      There are area in France to this day that are completely fenced off with barbed wire and lots of warning signs because of the presence of unexploded ordinance from WW I. So many millions of artillery rounds were fired, and so many of them contained gas, that these areas are virtual death traps. Slowly and year by year, a small cadre of dedicated deminers clear them acre by acre. There is a fascinating photographic study showing how much the terrain was changed by war, how much it has been changed by the return to nature, and all of the implements of war and the tombs of MIA war dead.

      1. avatar Geoff PR says:

        I’ve heard, on average, an EOD tech loses their life around once a year in Europe dealing with unexploded old war ordinance (that explodes on them)…

  10. avatar miforest says:

    I live in the area. the followup is that it was a practice round and never had the explosive or fuse. It was fired so there was no propellant. he had left it in the trunk of his car under some sandbags to protect it.

    1. avatar NineShooter says:

      When I grew up in the 70s, stuff like that could be bought at the local Army Surplus store. Even 12-year-olds with more lawn-mowing money than good sense were allowed to buy it, because it was known to be inert. They also had drums of German bayonets with steel sheaths, too. Fun for throwing at trees, and we even used them for tent pegs occasionally. When you broke one or the wood grips shattered and fell off, you’d buy another one for a dollar…

  11. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    Is it just me, or was it totally unnecessary to evacuate the nearby library, school, and court house? I can totally understand evacuating the police station. The other buildings, not so much.

    1. avatar pete says:

      Eh, hindsight being 20/20. I wouldn’t expect it to be lethal in an adjacent building, but maybe break a window, which might upset or injure kids nearby.

      1. avatar pete says:

        I mean, they prolly have fire drills, might as well do the evacuation, even if not needed due to the shell it’s a test/practice.

  12. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    Fun physics question of the day: given that beautiful teardrop shape, are the fins at the back end of the mortar totally unnecessary?

    1. avatar Curtis in IL says:

      They are necessary for the mortar to be stable and land nose-first. It would be unstable otherwise.

      Those of us who took creative liberties while assembling Estes rockets in our youth learned this.

      1. avatar Klause Von Schmitto says:

        You mean like turning the 2 stage Xcalibre into a 4 stage Xcalibre with a frog payload?

        1. avatar anaxis says:

          My best friend put an M80 in the nose of our first 2-stage frankenrocket. Added a long wick that would burn inside a smaller cardboard tube; got the bursting charge out of the B motor, and ran the wick directly to the top of the lifting charge. It went up perfectly, and made a nice air-burst.

          But if our rockets had passengers, they were legomen or those little Florida lizards. We went great lengths to recover them intact, and we never lost an astrolizard.

      2. avatar Rusty Chains says:

        When I was a kid I cut out the “rocket” portion and just glued balsa fins directly to the rocket engine. This worked out well with A and B series engines, not so much with C series engines as they frequently left the fins on the launch pad.

        Ask yourself​ what happens when you pack the nose of one of those engines with black powder, or glue a hunting broadhead in place of the nose cone!

    2. avatar Rincoln says:

      Except maybe to stabilize it inside the tube, get proper ignition, etc.

  13. avatar Logan says:

    The Sterling Heights Assembly Plant came under control of Chrysler’s Missile Division in 1953. Perhaps it’s from that era? (I know that doesn’t completely jive with the old man’s date range, but I’m making the assumption that he guessed it was 65 years ago – give or take, most likely.)

  14. avatar Swilson says:


  15. avatar Model 31 says:

    The local newspaper headlines “Man Brandishes Assault Rifle at Police Headquarters”

  16. avatar Roy Croft says:

    Better safe than sorry….

    1. avatar Robb says:

      You, good sir/madam/attack helicopter, win the interwebz for the day.

  17. avatar drunkEODguy says:

    Ahh the tale as old as time itself. Many calls to grandpa’s ordnance closet. One of my favorites was two good old boys who found WW1 era bazooka rockets out hunting in the woods. Threw em’ in the back of the pickup and let em roll and bounce around all the way to the sheriffs office to turn them in. Well, only after their wives made them take them off the mantle and turn them in. Turns out they were still fully fuzed and functional. Or the guy who drove around with a fuzed Japanese knee mortar shell in his cup holder console for decades until someone noticed that it was still fuzed.

    60mm Mortar, unfuzed. Likely a practice round, at most it has a spotting charge that would create a small amount of smoke for the crew to see impact. In that case, the only danger of it is from the chemicals used in that spotting charge can be not so great to breath in, if the charge is even still in it. Otherwise it’s PUCA

    1. avatar Anon in CT says:

      “WW1 era bazooka rockets”

      Really? Word War One?

      Pray tell when was the Bazooka first fielded?

  18. avatar Rhett says:

    A marines friend told me a story back in his boot camp of 1963 or so. They had shot some ordnance before they arrived and one of the newer recruits marines ignored orders not to picked up used 203 shells and was gathering them up. One was white phosperus and spilled on the marine. He said he heard it dissolved (or conflagulate o be more accurate ) the flesh off at the shoulde of the picking up arm.

    That story is why don’t frack with unknown objects.

  19. avatar drunkEODguy says:

    Typo, my apologies. WW2 era. I say era because it was the interwar period and they were likely there from the Louisiana Maneuvers. It’s an important distinction because it was one from before America reverse engineered the German panzershreck and made a 37mm shoulder fired rocket now more widely pictured in peoples minds today.

    1. avatar drunkEODguy says:

      oh and to answer your question the first shoulder fired rocket the US military adopted was sometime in the 30’s and it remained unchanged until the aforementioned reverse engineering and design of a 37mm warhead rocket similar to the German panzershreck

  20. avatar Ralph says:

    In England, they’d evacuate the entire city if the old man brought the cops a single .303 round. Expended or otherwise.

  21. avatar Malcolm says:

    Just to fill in some gaps for you:

    The man brought in a training round (though they didn’t know at the time it was only a training round).

    He left it in the trunk of his SUV and went into the police department to ask if he could turn it in.

    They evacuated city hall, the police station and the library because they all share the same parking lot, and because the location where he parked his car would have been too close for thru traffic coming in the Dodge Park Road entrance on their way to the library.

    Evacuating the school was probably a bit much, but it was probably done for the sake of caution, because kids would sometimes walk between the school and the library, and because sometimes people would park in the library parking lot when picking their kids up from school.

    The man is not facing charges, and Chief Berg of the SHPD is warning that events such as these might become more common as people age and their families start to clean out their properties.

    1. avatar Big Bill says:

      I’m pretty sure the school was evacuated because, if it wasn’t, some parent(s) would go ballistic.
      “There was a BOMB at the school, and you left the CHILDREN inside? What is wrong with you???”
      “Madam, there was no bomb at the school, it was a mortar round, and it was in the parking lot.”

      So, the school was evacuated.
      You know I’m right.

  22. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    Had a WWII vet bring an anti-aircraft round one night. Said it had been on his fireplace mantle all those years. He brought it home from Normandy. Said he personally shot down two Germans.
    He and his bride were moving into assisted living and she said it was time to get rid of it.
    I called a bomb squad buddies and he hauled it off.

  23. avatar RetMSgt in Pa. says:

    Living at the Edwards Housing Area just outside of Edwards Kaserne in Frankfurt, West Germany in the early 1980s, my sons would play with other kids in a large field out back. One day they found something “big”, loaded it into a cart and brought it to the MP shack at the entrance of the kaserne. The 3rd Armored Division MPs took one look and promptly evacuated the area. Don’t know what it was (found out after the fact), but EOD was called in to resolve the issue.

  24. avatar rt66paul says:

    I would imagine that Viet Nam would have a big problem. I have heard that we dumped more explosives in NVN than were used in WWI, WWII and Korea combined

  25. avatar Colt Magnum says:

    A few days ago, someone brought in a grenade to the Edmonds, Washington police department. They evacuated the building. Fun times had by all!

  26. avatar Johnny108 says:

    I was Army EOD for 8 years. My favorite story:

    Local police respond to what appeared to be a possible attack/UXO (Dud) problem in the yard of the Mayor.
    Cops arrive to find a pineapple style hand grenade in the yard.
    Surrounding area evacuated, and Army EOD called.
    News crews show up, the works!
    EOD team leader dons the bomb suit, and does the “long walk” to the grenade to do an initial recon on the object.
    He comes back to the truck, and asks his team: “Do we want to make these cops a laughing stock, or make them buy us a case of beer?”
    “OK- we have positive nomenclature on the ordnance.” -Positive nomenclature means the identifier is clear, and
    the threat can be known with a quick search of the database, along with how to deal with it.
    “Here is the nomenclature: M. A. T. T. E. L.”
    All the team members try REALLY hard not to laugh, hand the team leader an ammo can with some sand in the bottom, he walks back, picks up the “ordnance”, boxes it up, they take it to the range and blow it up.
    They are then treated to SEVERAL cases of beer from the local police department for not outing them to the news that they evacuated a neighborhood and freaked out the Mayor over a TOY!

  27. avatar mike says:

    It looks like a practice round. I remember those things – yuck. If I’m correct it’s made of solid iron with something like a shotgun shell for a propellant. You fire it – watch where it lands and then go dig it up, (sometime 2 feet deep in soft ground) clean it off, install a new shotgun shell and fire it again.
    What a pain in the A! they were!

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