ORANGEBURG, S.C. Call it reincarnation, nine lives, or just plain ol' luck.
One Orangeburg man has been killed off so many times he has to check his pulse to make sure he's really alive.
It's happened before and it's happening again. World War II veteran John Cruise, who fought at Bastogne and rode with Patton's 3rd Armored Division for a while across half of Germany, has been taken down by the stroke of a keyboard.
"I didn't want to tell my life's story, that's not what I'm after," Cruise said. "But that's my main goal letting others know."
Perhaps noble of Cruise to let others know when he himself wasn't told the news, which came as news to him: he was dead.
In November, his wife, Betty, received a letter from the couple's retirement company asking how his family wanted to handle the benefits after John's recent and hitherto unknown death.
"They wrote the nicest letter of condolences," Cruise said.
Perhaps an understatement, the 87-year-old said 2009 was just not his year. In April he went in for same-day surgery and spent a month in the hospital recovering from every flu and bug listed in Merck's Medical Manual.
After spending several more months at home recuperating, he finally got on the mend swinging the golf clubs again and was back at his volunteer work.
Then, with thoughts of another round of golf in mind, the letter arrived and Cruise learned he was dead.
Appearing very much alive, Cruise said with a call to the company and an explanation that he hadn't quite used up all of his lives yet, the matter was cleared up. Again.
This isn't the first time it's happened to Cruise. Actually, he's been declared dead several times, and, so far, each time he's experienced what could be termed a medical miracle by returning to life.
But that Lazarus Effect came only after a lot of patience and phone calls.
In 2006, Cruise's name turned up on a retirement company's deceased list several times. And each time he brought himself back to life with them, they killed him off again.
The problem was that each time they did, they withheld his retirement benefits. Until he can confirm his interest on his savings didn't die too, he's concerned that interest may have been withheld also.
"I tell people and they say it's funny," Cruise said. "But it's not real funny when you can't even prove you're alive."
Cruise said at this point, he's concluded, among other things, that he's simply a number to the companies who control such things.
"It goes a little further than that," he said. "One of these days, and they're going to be right, they're always right, you won't win."
Having survived a "paper death" several times previously, Cruise said he made no arrangements for his funeral nor did he include himself in his own will. He's not letting a little thing like dying get in his way of enjoying his life.
Instead, he's gone ahead with his life, which includes plans for a summer vacation with family.
"Being dead hasn't changed my plans, it's really not affected me that bad," he said. "Oh yeah, my plans are made, whether or not I'm alive or dead."
Cruise said he's concerned about those who may be in an incapacitated mental state and then declared dead by a bad keystroke in some office on the other side of the galaxy.
"I think it's an easy out" for the companies, he said. "That sounds pretty harsh, but my friend said, 'I bet you didn't get a letter of apology from them.' I said no I did not."
A Purple Heart and Silver Star recipient, Cruise advises others to check on their retirement benefits periodically to avoid being cast from the living.
Fighting the Germans in the frozen woods of Europe more than 60 years ago gave him grit. Dying on paper and fighting to be made alive again hasn't exactly taken away from the feistiness of the veteran.
"I think it's made me a stronger person," he said. "But, yes, I believe I am alive.
"Yes, alive," Cruise says after a second thought.