My maternal Grandfather, Arlond Hawkins was a Staff Sergeant in the 65th infantry division, serving in the European Theater of World War II. Since I was a little girl I wanted to know everything there was to know about my Grandfathers experience in France and Germany. After graduating from college I spent a summer gathering as much information as I could about his military life. He gave me all of his pictures and we talked for hours about how everything came about. Unfortunately he didn’t keep most of his letters and many of his experiences had slipped from his mind. Now he has returned to a more peaceful place and I’m afraid there are many things we will never know about Grandpa in Europe.
As a result of my fascination with my Grandfather fighting Hitler I paid little to no attention to what was going on in the Pacific. Of course I knew the war started with the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor and ended with the detonation of the atomic bomb, but why did I fail to seek information about what happened with the Japanese between the beginning and the end? The book “Unbroken”, by Laura Hillenbrand gave me some fascinating incites to the questions I had failed to even ask.
Louis Zamperini began his life as a trouble maker. Even at the age of two he was causing more grief than his poor mother knew how to handle. By his early teens he was keeping the local police department busy with his delinquency. No doubt about it, Louis had too much energy and no place to direct it. Until one day, his older brother Pete keyed him up to track.
Louis spent his high school years running as fast and as often as he could, his older brother Pete pushing him onward every step. As a result of some highly unexpected circumstances Louis found himself running the 5000 meters at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. As he struggled to keep up with the seasoned athletes ahead his mind returned to a comment Pete had made years earlier, “A lifetime of glory is worth a moment of pain.” Louie ignored his fatigue and “let go”. Although he did not win in 36’ everyone knew he had a great shot at taking home a medal in the 1940 Tokyo Olympics. Louis became the man to beat, breaking many records along the way; he was only seconds from running the unreached target of a four minute mile. Tokyo was his only aspiration.
With war raging throughout the world the Tokyo Olympics was moved to Helsinki Finland and later cancelled. Louis would not be winning any medals in Japan.
Louis was soon drafted into the Air Force as a bombardier, stationed mainly on the Hawaiian Islands. His new home was a B-24 bomber named Superman. After numerous missions Superman was injured beyond repair and the Green Hornet became Louis’ new mode of transportation.
Rescue missions were common place during the fight in the Pacific. “Unbroken” states, “between 1943 and 1945, four hundred AAF crews were lost en route to their theaters”. The Green Hornet was sent to look for a lost plane when it was shot down by Japanese aircraft. Louis, Phil, and Mac were the only three survivors of the 11 man crew.
The Green Hornet life rafts supported the three comrades through starvation, thirst, shark attacks, Japanese bullets, a typhoon, and massive psychological turmoil. On day 36 Mac gave up and entered a watery grave. When the morning of day 47 rolled around Louis and Phil were on solid ground.
As was destined to be their fate the two castaways were captured by Japanese Military men and immediately imprisoned. “Iron must be beaten while it’s hot; soldiers must be beaten while they’re fresh”. Such described the next two years of life for Louis and Phil.
During the years Louis was imprisoned in Japan he was savagely beaten, emotionally destroyed, disease ridden and starved. He was singled out by a particular Japanese guard the POW’s called, The Bird. The atrocities of his life are incomprehensible.
August 6, 1945, two years and one month (aprox) after being imprisoned by the Japanese the United States dropped a bomb that would end the Second World War. Louis was finally looking towards home.
A few statistics from “Unbroken”
“ Japan held some 132,000 POWs from America, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Holland, and Australia. Of those, nearly 36,000 died, more than one in every four. “
“Americans fared particularly badly; of the 34,648 Americans held by Japan, 12,935 – more than 37% – died. By comparison, only 1% of Americans held by the Nazis and Italians died.”
Louis Zamperini’s story was incredible and was miraculously told by Laura Hillenbrand. “Unbroken” is a must read for anyone facing a challenge of despair. Closing the last page of this book leaves the reader with a completely new understanding of what the human body and mind are truly capable of.
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Looking in the hole found in Superman
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