The 38-caliber bullet felt a like a hot poker stuck through John Cantrell’s 8-year-old body as it entered his arm from a mere four feet away.
The 71-year-old still remembers how it felt for the bullet to enter and exit his right arm, puncture his right side and leave through his left.
“I fell over very dramatic like,” Cantrell recalled. “I fell over onto the bed, rolled off onto the floor. I have four holes in me, so blood is going everywhere.”
These memories returned with stark clarity when Cantrell saw a recap of an old story about himself in the Cleveland Daily Banner’s “This Week in History.”
He said it was a surprise to see a glimpse into his own past.
“I never saw [the original] article. I was in the hospital when it was published, I guess,” he said. “My mother worked at the Chattanooga Free Press ... so we didn’t take the Banner when I was a child.”
The original article implied Cantrell only took a bullet in his left arm. Instead, it was his right and it left him with four bullet wounds — and a handful of miracles.
He recently provided an inside look into the day’s events during a sit-down interview.
Cantrell explained he and his 11-year-old friend and next door neighbor Taylor Bane took advantage of a free Sunday afternoon to catch a “shoot ‘em up” Western at the local theater.
The two returned to the Bane household amped up from the adrenaline-filled movie. Young Taylor was quick to pull out a pair of pearl-handled pistols purchased in Korea by his cousin. The guns were replicas of the ones carried by war hero General George S. Patton.
The guns looked exactly like the big, western firearms seen in the Sunday matinee.
Taylor began to flip the shells out of the gun, take aim and fire. The process of filling the chamber with bullets, flipping them out, taking aim and firing continued for several rounds. Unbeknownst to the two young boys, one stubborn bullet refused to leave the gun’s next-to-fire chamber. Taylor took aim expecting nothing but a loud crack and was surprised to see “Johnny” fall to the floor in a pool of his own blood.
“[The bullet] went through my arm ... and went in between two ribs here and out between two ribs here,” present-day Cantrell said as he pointed to the various spots on his chest. “That is a miracle because a 38-special bullet fit [between] my ribs with no space to spare.”
Cantrell continued, “The bullet missed my heart based on a heart beat away. It would have hit it, but it was beating in the opposite direction.
“It missed my lungs by a third of an inch, and my spine by just a couple sheets of newspaper. That could have either killed or paralyzed me.”
Taylor ran out of the room as Cantrell hit the floor and hid in the basement.
Eight-year-old Cantrell struggled to his feet using the bed and stumbled toward his home. He made it halfway between the two homes before passing out from loss of blood. No one on 3rd Street seemed to notice his crumpled form.
Taylor screwed up his courage and returned to find his friend out cold in the front yard. The young boy who would one day be called “The Gladiator” when he played sports at Bradley Central High School picked up his friend and carried him the rest of the way home.
Taylor placed Cantrell down on the couch and hollered for the 8-year-old’s mother.
As it was a Sunday, she was home instead of at work. She located the bullet on the inside of his corduroy jacket.
“That is strange, because that bullet is so powerful, it should have gone through me and on out through the wall,” Cantrell mused. “In the article, [Police Chief Goodwin] said the bullet was mashed. They looked everywhere for [where] it could have ricocheted off some metal, but it hadn’t.”
Cantrell continued, “[Taylor] stood four or five feet from me and aimed right at me. There was no way it ricocheted. I have determined it was an angel.”
He said the bullet was kept in one of the city police’s cabinets for a long time.
Cantrell added, “I wished I had gone and asked for that bullet and drilled a hole in it and worn it around my neck.”
His mother plucked the bullet from his 8-year-old self’s side and called the local funeral home for transport to a doctor.
Cantrell was placed in the back of the hearse before being taken on a wild drive to Dr. Claude Taylor’s office. He recalled the hearse took a corner short causing the car to hit a curb and he went airborne, smashing his nose into the car’s roof.
The car turned just north of Johnston Park and went down Inman Street beside the Cherokee Hotel (now the Summit Apartments). It pulled in front of the H&H Hospital located west of where Five Points Museum Center is today. Cantrell slipped into the most peaceful sleep of his life as the men carried him up the front steps on a stretcher.
Cantrell remained in his peaceful sleep for a couple of days.
“They say that when I did wake up, I was sleeping some way that was not natural for me and they say you could hear me hollering all the way to Charleston,” Cantrell chuckled. “I did not know I was in the hospital when I woke up.”
Three weeks of recovery followed under the watchful eye of Dr. Claude Taylor.
Cantrell said the man was a legend in his time, a doctor with one foot still in the time of home visits.
“Dr. Taylor was funny,” Cantrell recalled. “Whatever you’d had, he had had it before. They said if you were a woman and had a female problem, he had had that, too. He was an absolute great man.”
Cantrell’s mother brought him a chocolate malt from The Spot in downtown Cleveland every day during his recovery. He said it was an effort to build up his blood supply and strength.
Added Cantrell, “I was too skinny for them to worry about me getting fat.”
Blood pills, chocolate malts, care and the vitality of youth pulled Cantrell through the extreme loss of blood. Only the bullet wounds and several flecks of lead in his chest remained to tell of his brush with death. He said when he played basketball at Bradley his teammates and coach would yell, “Get the lead out.”
Chuckled Cantrell, “They didn’t know how real that was.”
He continued to make Cleveland his home, eventually marrying his wife, Glenda, and having two sons, Johnathan and David. He and Taylor remained friends throughout their childhood and youth before the latter enlisted into the Navy.
Added Cantrell, “He shot me accidentally, but he saved my life on purpose.”