Hillenbrand, Laura. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.
My father was a history major in college, so I come by being a history buff naturally. I’ve read Ernest Gordon’s To End All Wars (and seen the movie) and heartily recommended it to at least a couple of friends. The recent release of Angelina Jolie’s movie based on this book brought it to my attention, and the rave review (of the book at least) by Denny Burk cemented my interest.
Hillenbrand tells the tale of Louie Zamperini, a hell-on-wheels kid turned Olympic-caliber track star who enlisted in the Army Air Force at the outset of World War II. Zamperini was assigned to be a bombardier on a B-24 Liberator, a plane with a less-than-stellar reputation among American crews. After a few close calls, Zamperini and Allen Phillips (“Phil”) set out in the notoriously shaky Green Hornet for a search and rescue mission. The Green Hornet‘s reputation proved itself true, and the engines failed, sending all seven crew members into the Pacific. Only three survived and made it to the life rafts: Louie, Phil, and Mac.
For forty-seven days, the men survived sharks, starvation, sun, salt, thirst, and strafing Japanese planes. Louie and Phil survived the raft to make landfall, only to be captured by the Japanese and sent to several POW camps. The horrors of those camps are largely unimaginable, both in terms of the conditions and the ruthless cruelty of the camps’ overseers.
It’s a remarkable tale of survival and resilience, as the subtitle indicates. Louie does survive the camps and returns home, only to find himself spiraling into the darkness of alcoholism as the result of one camp guard who made breaking Louie his personal mission. Louie marries and has a child, but he still can’t break free from the alcohol. Finally, his wife Cynthia drags him to a Billy Graham tent meeting. Then to another, where the Holy Spirit opens Louie’s eyes and he trusts in Jesus. He changed from a raging alcoholic to a peaceful, loving husband and father and devoted Christian–even forgiving “the Bird,” as his nemesis was nicknamed. Thus, the story is ultimately one of redemption, too.
Hillenbrand’s meticulous research and lively style make for fascinating reading, and she certainly does justice to an incredible story–one that would be discarded as fanciful had it not been true.