Author: Laura Hillenbrand.
Published in 2010 by Random House, New York.
Many hundreds of books have been written about World War Two. A good many of them have told about life in the German prisoner of war camps, but few have touched on the subject of what it was like to be a prisoner in a Japanese POW camp. Laura Hillenbrand has done a superb job of writing the biographical story of Louis Zamperini and the extreme ordeal of his time in just that setting. In my experience biographical books are often long and tedious to read; not so with Unbroken. Hillenbrand tells us of a man who started life in an Italian immigrant family with rebellion almost from the moment he could walk. At the age of two, sick with pneumonia, he jumped out of a window and ran down the street, naked, with the policeman chasing after him.
He started smoking at the age of five and drinking at eight. He was constantly stealing food from both homes and stores and many of his stories ended with…”and then I ran like mad.” His whole youth was spent bouncing from one self-caused trouble to another. There is no question he was headed for an unhappy ending until his brother Pete intervened on his behalf when Louis was 14 years old. He persuaded the principal of the school that Louis’ constant seeking of attention was what caused him to get into so much trouble and that the answer to keeping him out of trouble was to get him involved in sports. His idea was the perfect answer for Louis. With Pete’s constant oversight, encouragement, even whacking him with a stick, Louis went on to excel in track. It was not a smooth path by any means, but in 1936 he had done so well that he set his sights on the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. If the book were to go no further than this it would have given you an inspiring story, but, of course, it does go on to tell you of that outcome and much more.
In 1940, with war raging, in both Europe and the Pacific, the U.S. Congress enacted the draft bill. If a man enlisted prior to being drafted he could choose his service branch. Louis joined the Army Air Corps. And thus begins the real story of Louis Zamperini; his service as a bombardier on a B-24, his subsequent crash into the Pacific on a bombing mission where he and two other men were able to climb into a raft the size of a small bathtub equipped with rations for, at most, a few days, besieged by sharks, and, finally, after 46 days at sea, their capture by the Japanese where the real horror began.
In Unbroken you will meet a villain like no other you have met before, “The Bird.”
He, alone, was responsible for much of the pain and suffering endured by the men in the camps with Zamperini. Conditions that would appear unendurable to those of us reading about them would become even worse under “The Bird.” One has to believe that the trait that made Louis Zamperini able to live through all that he did was his life long streak of rebellion and perseverance. He just refused to let anything or anyone destroy him.
Hillenbrand’s way of telling this story leaves out few of the horrifying details but at the same time allows us to see the strength and humanity of those who lived it. It is a book that is hard to put down and even harder to forget. It is a story that needs to be told so that it will never be forgotten.
Diane has lived on Marco Island since 1987. She was the Founder and President of Ft. Myers chapter of the Association of Children with Learning Disabilities, President of Jr. Women’s League, Ft. Myers Chapter, and served on the board of Art League of Marco Island. She is an avid reader, fly fisherwoman, tennis player and crafter.