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A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
“All he could see, in every direction, was water. It was late June 1943. Somewhere on the endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean, Army Air Forces bombardier and Olympic runner Louie Zamperini lay across a small raft, drifting westward. Slumped alongside him was a sergeant, one of his plane’s gunners. 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.”
Although the blurb on the cover says this is a WWII story it is much more than that. We learn of the childhood of Louis Zamperini, who was always in trouble, the police showing up at his door, his father having to pay compensation. At the point when it looked like there was nothing that could be done to set him straight, his brother got him into running. He was an incredibly gifted runner and with his brother’s coaching he began to realize his potential. He set records that stood for almost 20 years and qualified for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He was the youngest distance runner from the U.S. in the Olympics. Distance runners are generally older and it was believed he would come into his own in the next Olympics. Unfortunately the next Olympics were cancelled due to the war and Louis enlisted in the Army.
In May 1943 his plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean, there were three survivors initially, one of the men died before they reached land. Upon reaching land after more than 40 days adrift they were captured by the Japanese and brutally treated until the end of the war. At times they feared for their lives, not just because of the brutal treatment but also because the Japanese had a policy that no prisoners would be rescued. Many thousands of POWs were executed when the Japanese thought they were in danger of being defeated.
War doesn’t leave anyone in it untouched. After coming home a hero Louis suffered from severe PTSD, he experienced flashbacks and began drinking heavily. The torture from the Japanese was not only physical it was emotional and psychological.
Louis became a born again Christian, I almost brought down the rating of the book because of that, but that would not have been fair to Ms. Hillenbrand, who has done a stellar job with this book. I hate saying a non-fiction book ‘reads like a novel’, but this book does, a can’t put it down novel. Her writing style is very readable. She takes the facts of his life and lays them out for us in logical order with a compelling narrative.
This book is not only packed full of information, it also has tons of pictures, most are from Louis Zamperini’s scrapbooks. I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to know more about WWII as it gives us a look inside the Pacific POW camps, and also offers an explanation of sorts as to why the Japanese have never been called to account for the crimes they committed during World War II.