Mistakenly Labelled As KIA Soldier Awakes In A Body Bag

Imagine waking up in a body bag!

That was what happened to John Bennett, who awoke to find himself stuffed into one in May 1964. The young medic had been mistakenly labeled as dead after being struck by a bolt of lightning. He was sent to the morgue, and his family received a letter notifying them of his “unfortunate death.” It was written by Chaplain Phillip Kissinger.

Bennett knew he had been struck by lightning. He had a KIA (killed in action) label attached to him, and his body was transported to the morgue via helicopter. A few hours later, John awoke from his loss of consciousness and cut himself out of the body bag. Looking around, he found himself surrounded by dead bodies in bags. It was quite a scary sight for the young man.

John Bennett, like anyone else in his position, felt shocked and surprised. The military had trained him for many situations, but he had not been prepared for what he saw. Bennett said he stood there with a blank mind. After about 30 minutes someone entered the morgue and found him. If that person had not arrived, Bennett would have been there for hours, wandering among the bodies, dazed and confused. Bennett read the body tag on himself, along with a death certificate which had already been issued to his family. He had officially been dead for 18 hours.

Everyone was quickly notified that Bennett was alive – except his own platoon. They still thought that the young man had died after being struck by lightning.

John Bennett, now 70, was reunited with his unit a few days afterward. The battalion was going to name a war bunker after their fallen comrade, until they received the news that he was, in fact, still alive. Bennett, being the brave soldier he is, rejoined the fight alongside his colleagues almost immediately.

Chaplain Kissinger is sure he wrote the letter to Bennett’s family, notifying them of their son’s unfortunate death. His family was obviously distressed due to the news and Bennett’s sister cried frequently. It was not until a few weeks later that his family was informed the death notification had been a mistake.

Bennett’s family had been wondering why they had not obtained his body. His wife, who was pregnant at the time, did not receive any information about his death. No one knew where he was or if he was alive or not – it caused great distress.

Bennett was known as “lightning” in high school, due to his blisteringly fast running skills, and he had always wanted to become an electrician. It was all he ever wanted to do – he dreamt of being an electrician.

Chaplain Kissinger did not know until recently that Bennett had survived the lightning strike. Bennetts battalion consisted of four units with soldiers on the frontline while Kissinger was stationed back at HQ. The chaos on the battlefield made communication between the frontline soldiers and HQ difficult, and the noise caused static on radio transmissions and drowned out voices. As a result, it was difficult to receive and send urgent messages.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE