UNBROKEN

September 16, 2012


I just finished a marvelous book called “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand.   Published by Random House with copyright date of 2001.  Ms. Hillenbrand is also the author of Seabiscuit, another terrific book which became a movie three or four years ago .  Unbroken is about the life of Louis Zamperini from high school years until his death.  The primary chapters of the book concern his capture and incarceration in Japanese prison camps during the Second World War.    In 1942, Zamperini served in the Army Air Force (AAF) as a bombardier aboard a B-24 “Liberator”, also known as the “flying brick”.   His plane was named Super Man.   He was a member of flight crew number 8 in the nine-crew   372nd Bomb Squadron of the 307th Bomb Group, Seventh Air Force.  The first duty station for Zamperini and his crew was Hickam Field, Oahu were the war  had begun for Americans eleven months earlier.   The major portion of the book begins with the plane he was in , not Super Man,  ditching in the South Pacific and the flight crew’s remarkable survival at sea.  Shot down in the Pacific Theater,  Hillenbrand explains their situation as follows: “Slumped alongside him (Zamperini ) was a sergeant and one of his plane’s gunners while on a separate raft, tethered to the first, lay another  crewman, a gash zigzagging across  his forehead.  Their bodies burned by the sun and stained yellow from the raft dye, had withered down to skeletons.  Sharks glided in lazy loops around them, dragging their backs along the rafts, waiting.”  The rafts had floated at least 1,000 miles, deep into Japanese-controlled waters.  They were picked up by passing Japanese fishing boat.  While the crew had hoped for deliverance instead, they were turned over to Japanese captors who held them in various prison camps for the duration of the war.  After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they were liberated by US forces.  The POWs were beaten mercilessly by their captors and many were judged and sentenced by military tribunals after the war for inhuman treatment to prisoners.   Imprisonment took a definite physical toll on Zamperini but also a significant mental toll; showing up only after he returned to the United States.  Hillenbrand details the demons Louis had to conquer to overcome aberrant behavior and a quick temper.     Daily nightmares were commonplace and the only way Louis fought back was by drowning  the inevitable  “visitors” in alcohol.  He became an alcoholic.  His marriage suffered, his children suffered and family kept away because his actions were so unpredictable.   An equally remarkable part of the story is how Zamperini overcame  his mental problems and how he spent the remainder of  his life after restoration to normal.

I can highly recommend this book to you.   The book is not fiction.  Many pictures of Zamperini, his flight crew and his family are given in the pages with supporting text indicating their importance.  It details the life of an Olympic runner, war hero, husband, father and most of all, a survivor who remained unbroken.

 

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