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‘My Life Preserver’: 23 Random Items That Have Stopped Bullets in Battle

Think you aren’t superstitious? Read this litany of luck in war

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Elena Scotti/Getty Images/Shutterstock

Troops have always carried personal items and keepsakes in battle. Occasionally, one of these will intervene to save a warrior’s life.

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Recently, a Samsung Galaxy saved a soldier in Ukraine when a 7.62mm round hit his upper thigh and embedded itself in the smartphone in his pocket.

Whether such incidents are down to fate, chance or some higher power is hotly debated.

Here are 23 other random objects that stopped bullets in wartime:

1. Zippo lighter

Capt. Harold Fritz felt a blow to his chest while charging the enemy at Quan Loi in 1969. The next day, he found that his Zippo lighter — a gift from his wife — in his breast pocket had been hit by a bullet that would have killed him. Fritz was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery; his wife earned his undying gratitude.

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2. Coin

Confederate soldier Lt. George Dixon was hit by a musket round during the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. The bullet ricocheted off a $20 double eagle gold coin in his pocket. Dixon died in the submarine CSS H.L. Hunley when it sank in 1864. When the Hunley was raised in 2000, a bent $20 coin was recovered with Dixon’s skeleton. On it was engraved: “My Life Preserver.”

3. Bully beef

In Italy in 1943, 2nd Lt. Farley Mowat was hit by a volley of rounds from a Schmeisser submachine gun and thrown to the ground. The Canadian was uninjured because the bullets had lodged in the cans of bully beef in the pack he was carrying. 

4. Cigarette case

Smoking can be good for you. 2nd Lt. William Lytle was saved by a silver cigarette case in his tunic during World War I. The case had been given to the British officer by his wife when they married in 1916.

5. Bible

Trust in the Lord? In 1944, Pfc. John Lewis Pitts of Mississippi was hit in the chest by a German bullet and knocked backward. He found the round embedded in his military-issue New Testament, in his breast pocket. It had stopped on the 91st Psalm, which says, “Under his wings shall thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.”

6. Spoon

During the Battle of Antietam in 1862, Union soldier Pvt. David Stevens was saved when a spoon in his haversack deflected a bullet about to enter his chest.

7. Belt buckle

The life of William Catlin, who served with the U.S. Colored Troops during the American Civil War, was apparently saved by his belt buckle, which deflected a bullet. His great-granddaughter found the buckle during a house cleanup more than a century later.

8. Notebook

In 1891, Pvt. George Dowsell was fighting in the British Army during the Third Anglo-Burmese War when a stray bullet struck him in the chest, lodging in his notebook.

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9. iPod (remember those?)

Sgt. Kevin Garrad, a U.S. Army Humvee gunner from Savannah, Georgia, returned to base in Tikrit, Iraq, in 2005 to find that his Apple iPod had been destroyed by an AK-47 round that had hit him in the chest.

10. Medal

Gustav Litner, a German soldier, was saved by a silver military medal in his neck purse that was hit by a British .303 Lee-Enfield round at the Battle of Mons in 1914.

11. Laptop

In 2007, a Panasonic Toughbook carried by an infantryman in the 82nd Airborne Division was hit by an Iraqi bullet that lodged in the hard drive, leaving him unharmed.

12. Shaving stick

Sapper Ernest Grantham, a British soldier, was saved in 1917 when a bullet struck the tin-covered shaving stick he was carrying.

13. Crucifix

Divine intervention? A metal crucifix in the tunic of Pvt. James Burke of the Royal Irish Fusiliers saved him when it deflected a German bullet in France in 1916.

14. Knife

During the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993, Navy SEAL John Gay was hit by an AK-47 round that struck his Randall Bowie knife. The blade shattered, stopping the round from entering his leg.

15. Rifle

A Marine lieutenant was running toward a crater during the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945 when a bullet struck his rifle, splitting it in half but leaving him unharmed.

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16. Watch

Pvt. Edwin Hubenthal of Spokane, Washington, was going over the top in France in 1918 when a German round hit his watch, which deflected the bullet into his leg rather than his stomach.

17. Camera

In 2017, an Islamic State sniper’s bullet struck a GoPro camera hanging from the neck of Iraqi journalist Ammar Alwaely in Mosul, Iraq. The camera stopped the round from hitting his chest.

18. Pewter flask

The life of American Revolution soldier Elijah Pugh was spared at Kettle Creek, Georgia, in 1779 when a pewter flask hanging on his chest deflected a lead bullet.

19. Water canteen

Staff Sgt. Bill Rollins was hit by a tracer round in Vietnam in 1968. Dark liquid spread through his pant leg. The liquid turned out to be grape Kool-Aid in his water canteen, which had the bullet lodged inside it.

20. Kim by Rudyard Kipling

French legionnaire Maurice Hamonneau was knocked unconscious during the Battle of Verdun in 1916. He awoke to find a bullet embedded in his pocket edition of Kim, a novel by Rudyard Kipling.  If the book had been 20 pages shorter, the round might have killed him.

21. Shaving mirror (with an assist from a deck of cards)

A bullet that hit WWI Canadian soldier John Falloon in the chest pierced a deck of cards, then was stopped by his shaving mirror.

22. Packet of postcards

Cpl. Sidney Day was serving in the Suffolk Regiment at the Somme in 1916 when a packet of postcards in his breast pocket deflected a bullet from his heart. A second round embedded in a leather compass case in his pocket, leaving a bruise on his groin.

23. Wallet

Lt. Tom Faley of the 101st Airborne Division felt a “whack in my tail” during a 1965 firefight in Vietnam. Days later, he was drying out his fatigues and found a .30-caliber bullet in his wallet, which had been in his back pocket. He reflected: “Luck plays a great deal in combat.”

You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published every two weeks. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

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