Louis was a bombardier on a B-24 bomber. He was part of a crew that flew several bombing missions targeting strategic Japanese-held islands. After one such flight, his plane crashed in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Louis and the pilot, Phil, were the only survivors. They were able to survive on a raft for 47 days. They fought dehydration, starvation and sharks. That journey of survival would be an entire book in of itself. However, the raft was only the beginning. They managed to reach land in the Marshall Islands which was occupied by the Japanese and from there their horrific journey really began.
Louis’s treatment in the hands of the Japanese was appalling. Unlike the Germans, the Japanese did not adhere to the Geneva Convention’s treatment of prisoners of war. The prisoners were severely tortured by the Japanese guards. Ms. Hillenbrand was able to capture the horrific treatment of the Allied POWs. At times, I just wanted to close my eyes and deny that anyone could be treated that way. As I was reading, I kept comparing the POWs to the Jews in Europe. The POWs were routinely tortured, beaten, and executed at any given time. The Japanese even experimented on the POWs. As you read, you are shocked at their treatment.
Ms. Hillenbrand description of the Louis’s torment was heart-wrenching. With every blow he received, you felt a little of his spirit fading away. I find it really incredible that she was able to get Louis and the other men to open up to her and share their horrific stories.
The most compelling aspect of this book is the forgiveness that Louis is able to achieve. The author painted a picture of Louis as a tortured, broken and angry man when he returned from the War. It is truly amazing that Louis was able to feel any kind of forgiveness towards his tormentors. Ms. Hillenbrand vividly described Louis’s journey from total anger to total forgiveness. It is hard to fathom that kind of forgiveness.
After I finished reading Unbroken, I watched a 60 Minutes piece on Louis Zamperini and Unbroken. Both Louis and Laura Hillenbrand were interviewed. First, Louis is still with us at 95 years old and he still has that unbroken spirit. Second, it took seven years to write Unbroken. In all that time, Louis and Laura never met. All of the interviews were conducted by phone. It is really remarkable that Ms. Hillenbrand was able to capture that confidence with Louis. If you enjoy historical nonfiction, I highly recommend this book.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars