Sunday, January 18, 2015


Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

I've been putting this review off for nearly a month. It isn't that I didn't wish to write it, it was that I didn't want to write a review which consisted of "LOUIE AND PHIL WERE AMAZING MEN AND EVERYONE HAS TO READ THIS BOOK TO LEARN ABOUT THESE MEN AND WHAT THEY WENT THROUGH."

When you have a professional reviewing blog you can't really do that - notice I did manage to get it in anyways.

Unbroken is the true story of Louis Zamperini, and Olympian runner who later became a Prison of War when his plane crashed and he was captured by the Japanese. However, this book simply isn't his story, Laura talks about many of the men Louie met during his life and those he met in the various POW camps he was sent to.

As a boy, Louie was a trouble maker. When he was younger his pranks were mostly just fun, but the older he got the more he rebelled. Angered over being bullied because he was Italian, Louie began fighting back and later terrorized the other boys in his neighborhood. As a teenager he was always a step away from jail.

Determined to help him, Louie's older brother Pete got him into track running. He pushed Louie hard, giving up his own chance of being a runner, and soon Louie was the fastest runner in his school. At nineteen he won a place in the Olympics, held in Berlin, Germany. Louie knew he had no chance of winning, but he went and placed fifth, making remarkable time on the last lap. When he returned home he started training for the next Olympics. They were to be held in Tokyo, but when Japan went to war they were canceled.

After Pearl Harbor, Louie trains to be a bomber. At this point in his life he met and became best friends with Russell Allen Phillips, whom he called Phil.

 Phil was quiet - he seems to have been the kind of person everyone was friends with. He had a girl back home who he got engaged to while in training. (He sent her money to buy a ring.) They had plans to marry before he was sent to war, but he was shipped out sooner than they thought and they had to postpone the wedding. (In a letter he wrote to Cecy - his girl - he said he wanted to marry her and run away where no one could find them.)
Sometimes in history I read about someone and feel some connection with them. Almost like I understand them, or admire them more than other men in history. It has never happened though as strongly with Phil.
After the war Phil never told his side of the story. He went back home, married Cecy, and for their honeymoon they ran away where no one could find them. He later had two kids and became a teacher. And when he died, it was written in the paper that he'd been a POW with Louis Zamperini, and those in his hometown never had any idea.
Part of it, though I don't like speculate on real life, but from things gathered through the book, it is mentioned by Louie that he felt Phil blamed himself for the crash which killed all but Louie, Phil, and another crew member. Phil was an expert pilot. He used to see how low he could fly his B-24, sometimes going so low he past the first floor windows of houses. During one mission his plane, Superman, got shot up and shouldn't have made it back to Base but Phil limped it home. (Three crewmen were hit and bleeding to death. Louie was trying to help them but being only one man, obviously needed help. He asked Phil to send back the copilot. Phil said he couldn't as he needed help flying, but when Louie told him why he wanted the copilot Phil sent him back and flew the plane with his hands and knees.)
Laura mentions later in the book that after he got back, Phil never flew again except for one time when his daughter's husband died in a crash and he flew out to be with her. Also, his daughter mentioned he was always happy, but in the evenings he would go outside, sit on the porch swing, and stare at nothing. From that I think it might be safe to assume he never fully stopped believing that the other men dying was his fault. Which might explain why he never spoke of what happened.

All that said, Phil is a man I have come to admire and consider my hero, right along with Louie. Both went through so much, not just their 47 days fighting to keep alive in a raft, but afterward as POWs.

Louie was singled out in the camps he was sent to. He was beaten without mercy by a man he and the others called the Bird. Later when Louie went home he suffered nightmares in which every night the Bird stood over him and beat him with his belt. Louie drank and continually lost his temper. It wasn't until he went to a Billy Graham meeting that God saved him and Louie turned his life around. He started a camp to help boys who were, like himself, troublemakers. He told his story to anyone who would listen, wanting them to see what God had done in his life. He felt called by God to use his story as a witness.

Like Phil, Louie married and had two kids. He stayed active, though because of a broken ankle as a POW, he was never able to run in the Olympics again except for the time he carried the torch.

Louie was an amazing man. Not just because of what he endured as a POW, but because he was able to go back years later and forgive his guards face to face.

There is some language in this book, but it didn't bother me like other books. I don't know why, it just felt different. It is hard to explain.

It also goes into detail of the things Louie went through and suffered, as well as the other POWs. It was sometimes hard to read what Louie suffered, but I was glad Laura didn't graze over it. What happened was his story, and really happened.

All that said, I recommend everyone read this book at least once in their lives. Louie and Phil's story change my life - and as my friend and I keep saying, once you read it you won't ever be able to complain again.

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