S. Martin Shelton

Retired U.S.Navy Captain, Novelist

Book Review – Unbroken

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Rating – Five Stars

Unbroken is an intensely gripping book. I read page after page after page until my roiling mind demanded that I quit. I could not. Unbroken is a dismaying book. I wanted to toss it into the trash to relieve my emotional distress. I could not. My empathy was too intense.

I continued reading and reading about the horrifying images Hillenbrand penned of the dehumanizing tortures and starvation diets the Japanese guards inflicted on our Allied prisoners of war during World War II. (The war in the Pacific raged from 7 December 1941 to 2 September 1945.)

Her storytelling skills engender intense and disturbing emotions. Perhaps I should note that I am a retired naval intelligence officer and one of my specialties was Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE). I had some experience in Operation Homecoming in early 1970—the repatriation of our prisoners of war from the Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam.

Hillenbrand’s gripping narrative of Louis Zamperini (1917 to 2014) is adroitly compelling. Zamperini was a distance runner who ran the 5,000 meter race in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He finished 8th. As the Pacific War loomed, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and became a bombardier in a Consolidated B24 Liberator squadron. In a search and rescue operation in May 1943, his B24 crashed into the ocean.

Zamperini, Russel Allen Philip, the pilot, and Francis McNamara, waist gunner, survived and drifted in the Pacific in lashed-together rafts for 47 days. I’ll not detail their struggle for survival in this review—suffice to say, their schemes to garner food and portable water were exceptionally innovative. On the 33rdday, McNamara died. After 47 days, Zamperini and Philip were gaunt and covered with saltwater sores. Their raft drifted onto a small island in the Marshall Islands and Japanese naval personnel captured them. The pair had drifted about 2,000 nautical miles.

I’ll not detail more of Hillenbrand’s narrative. It’s up to you, dear reader. In summary, I do not recommend this book for the “weak of heart.”

Read more by S. Martin Shelton!

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