Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Reviewed by Allen Hott

UnbrokenThis is quite a story about an Olympic runner from the U.S. team In the Berlin Olympics of 1936. Although he didn’t win the race (he finished 8th) but he ran the fastest final lap not only in the race but of anyone in distance running in the Olympics. His time of 56 seconds was so astounding that Adolf Hitler made a point to meet and congratulate him at the race’s end.

The runner was Louis Silvie Zamperini, son of Italian parents who moved the family to California where they basically lived in severe poverty in the late 20s and early 30s. Louie led a slightly tough young life as he was basically a wild young man. At an early age he was drinking, smoking, and actually living like a bandit in that he would steal food especially as he was always hungry. He always felt that he could fend for himself in all areas. He was lucky in that his older brother, Pete, who was almost a direct opposite type of boy, took very good care of Louie. There were also two younger sisters in the family who helped to somewhat control Louie.

But basically Pete got Louie into his running habit which carried him through high school and helped him set a national high school record of a 4:21.3 mile which was much faster than the previous record set before World War I. After graduating high school he set his eyes on the 1936 Olympics but felt his time wasn’t going to be fast enough for the shorter races. So he re-set his vision and decided to go for the 5000 meters. And that is where he ran the fastest finish ever though he didn’t win the race.

Through college at USC he worked on the longer distances setting all sorts of records as he now pushed himself forward for the 1940 Olympics. However before the Olympics could begin Hitler had begun his blitzkrieg of Europe and the Olympics were postponed!

Louie decided to join the Army and was assigned to the Air Corps where he
was trained as a bombardier. He was stationed at Ephrata, Washington early in 1942 and began his training with Allen Phillips who became his pilot and one of his best friends. After some extensive training in B-24’s they were shipped to Hawaii to join the battle in the Pacific. On one of their missions they were shot up so badly that they barely made it back to the base and after they did the plane was determined to be too far gone for any more missions.

Louie, Phil, (Allen used Phil for a first name which was the last name shortened), and several others were sent off to a new plane and a new airfield where they prepared for more combat. And shortly thereafter on a new mission their new aircraft wasn’t able to make it back and into the ocean the plane and crew went.

From this point on the story of the Unbroken is basically about Louie and how he gets fished out of the sea but into a Japanese POW camp where he spends the rest of the war. Off and on he is with Phil and several other friends and he meets many new friends but basically it is the story of the inhumane treatment that Louie and other Americans and Allies suffered in the Japanese POW camps. Much of it is almost unbelievable when you read and think about the torture, the inhumane care including practically no food at all, and constant beatings that those men suffered.

As we all know World War II ended with a win for the U.S. and allies but the war continued on in the minds of those POW’s who spent so much time in such terrible conditions. This particular story ends with overall a fairly good finish but it is still mainly a story of a terrible life that those folks lived. A very long book but also a very good look at the devastation and trauma that wars cause.