If you’ve seen the series “House,” where Dr. House started performing an autopsy on a patient who he thought was already dead but ended up waking up and screaming, very much alive, to the surprise of everyone, something similar happened to a guy named John Bennett in real life. Unfortunately, he was a young medic who was struck by lightning and was placed in a body bag, declared killed in action. Except he wasn’t.

One in a Million Chance

According to the National Weather Service, there is only a 1 in 15,300 chance that one would be struck by lightning in a lifetime. The odds were even slimmer if you ran the numbers in a given year: 1 in 1,222,000. A one-in-a-million chance that John Bennett had in 1968 when he was struck by lightning on May 18, that year, while serving in Vietnam.

John Bennett. (Historia Obscurum)

Specialist 5 John W. Bennett woke up and found himself stuffed into a body bag. He was a young medic who, after being hit by some 3 million volts of a lightning flash, was pronounced killed in action, placed in a body bag, and transported to the morgue via a helicopter. His family also received the news via a letter notifying them of Bennett’s “unfortunate death.”

Killed in Action?

Imagine waking up and finding yourself stuffed and sealed in a body bag. That was how Bennet woke up. The confused medic found his pocket knife and cut himself out. When he sat up, he looked around and saw that he was surrounded by other dead bodies in bags. That was when he discovered that they thought he was dead, too, with a KIA label attached to him. Just like how anyone else in the same situation would probably feel, he was shocked. He just stood there for thirty minutes, trying to process the whole scenario until someone entered the morgue and found him, much to the person’s surprise, too. He wrote,

I saw fluorescent tubes in pastel colors in a tunnel with a bright light at the end. Suddenly it got dark. I reached in my pants pocket and felt my knife and I cut a hole in the tarp so I could sit up. Around me were many litters with body bags on them just like mine. I didnt know if I was in enemy or friendly hands. I was in shock. I had always been so very cognizant of my surroundings and now I was in a place I could not identify and had no idea of how or why I was here.

Later, he would read the death certificate issued to his family and find out that he had been dead for 18 hours. When they found out he was still alive, they notified everyone, especially his family, who must’ve been relieved and confused at the same time after finding out that the family member they were grieving about was suddenly alive again, particularly his sister, who would frequently cry. However, it was not until a month later that they got the second letter.

His own platoon was not notified until a few days later. His battalion, at that time, was about to name a war bunker after their comrade when the news reached them that Bennett was very much alive. Chaplain Kissinger, the one who wrote the letter that bore the bad news to Bennett’s family, did not know that Bennett actually survived the lightning strike. He was stationed back at the headquarters, and communication between the HQ and the chaotic frontlines was difficult, with static radio transmissions that made the voice inaudible.

Killed in Action-Struck By Lightning: A Vietnam Combat Medics Story. (Dorrance Bookstore)

As for Bennett, 18 hours of death did not discourage him from rejoining the fight and braving the battlezone along with his colleagues. Later in his life, he would share his experiences and write a book titled “Killed In Action – Struck By Lightning: A Vietnam Combat Medic’s Story.”

Avoid Falling Victim

Situations are different when you are in the battlezone, of course, but if you don’t want to end up like Bennett, then you’d have to know how to avoid being struck by lightning. No matter how some films and cartoons downgrade the effects of being struck by lightning, their effects could be deadly.  There are about 1.8 billion lightning strikes a year on this planet and in the US about 43 people a year are killed by them, it’s a miracle there aren’t more.  Being struck can have any number of effects.

As per Erie Insurance, it could cause the following:

  • Loss of eyesight
  • Ruptured eardrum
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Burns that may look like Lichtenberg figures or wavy lines
  • Memory loss
  • Seizures
  • Death

Remember very simply that if you can hear thunder, you can be struck by lightning. To avoid it, the first thing to do, of course, was to get inside a safe building once you heard the first clap of thunder. The CDC listed some tips on how to avoid falling victim to lightning strikes. For instance, when you are indoors, you should avoid water, avoid touching electronic equipment, avoid staying close to the windows, doors, porches, and concrete, and avoid using corded phones. When outside, it is better to separate from others to reduce the number of injuries in case lightning hits the ground. It’s also not a good idea to stay in open vehicles like convertibles or motorcycles. You are safe however in an enclosed vehicle because the metal box you are sitting in creates a faraday cage that allows the lightning to pass through and around the conductive metal and go harmlessly into the ground. It’s also not a good idea to stand close to tall structures that are more likely to be hit by lightning. If you are, by odd chances, hit by the lightning, pray that you are as lucky as Bennett.