Louis Zamperini was an Olympic runner in 1936, competing in long distance, and thought to be the first man that would be able to break the four minute mile. Then WWII started, and Zamperini joined the Air Force, becoming a bombardier. Training in Hawaii, he became very close to his crew including pilot Russell Allen Phillips (Phil). As the crew worked together, learning the ins and outs of flying B-24 bombers, many men were dying from non-combat accidents. Louis and his crew went out to try and find a assumed plane that had gone down over the ocean when their own plane experienced troubles and also went down. The only men that survived the impact were Louis, Phil, and another crew member Mac.
Floating in the ocean, with only sharks and the odd bird as their companions, the three wonder when search planes will try to come and find them or if they'll die in their raft. After 47 days at sea, they finally see land only to be captured by the Japanese. They are taken as POWs and are treated without dignity, moved from camp to camp.
This book is a true story of survival. Physically being able to survive 47 days at sea with very little to drink and eat is unbelievable itself. Then captured as POWs, they must mentally be able to survive when they are constantly humiliated and degraded.
Like most biographies or autobiographies, I always find the first few chapters slow and rather dull because there's so much to explain about the character of the person. Once the story moved to the war, this story captured me. You know that Louis survives but you pull for him and hope that he goes through the least amount of hardship.
What I was very surprised at was the facts on the number of people that died from non-combat flights, significantly so. It makes you wonder what could have been done during the war if fewer men had died from accidents. Could it have ended sooner? It also makes me grateful that my grandfather, a navigator during WWII, came home without incident.
It's really no surprise that this book took 7 years to research and write. The amount of detail is extraordinary. There are accounts of POW life from a variety of sources. Interesting fact: Hillenbrand and Zamperini never met in person during the writing and publishing of this book!
First Line: "All he could see, in every direction, was water."