Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"My Dear Little Boys..." A Christmas Letter

Marine 1st Lt. Leonard Isaacks was serving in the Pacific during World War II when he wrote this Christmas letter to his two young sons. He not only captures the spirit of the season, but beautifully communicates why he was fighting.

Title: HEADQUARTERS 5TH MARINE DIVISION


December 17th, 1944

My dear little boys:


I am writing to you today, just a week before Christmas eve, in the hope that you will get this little note at Christmas time. All of this coming week will be holidays, and I can just imagine the fun you will be having, especially when you know that it is just a few days before Santa Claus will be coming. If it were possible, I would like to come down the chimney myself and crawl right in to your stocking, wouldn't that be a surprise? I would enjoy it even more than you, but since your Dad is far away and Santa Claus has the only reindeers that will fly through the air, I'm afraid we will have to let Santa Claus use them. After all he has so many places to go in such a short time.

I won't be able to give you a Christmas present personally this year, but I do want you to know that I think of you all the time and feel very proud of the way you have been helping your Mother while I am gone. I know that it is only natural for young, healthy and strong boys like you are to want to play and have fun all of the time; but I do want you to think about helping Mummie, because it is hard for her to do everything while I am gone. I know that you would like to give me a Xmas present too, so I will tell you what you can do, and this will be your Xmas present to me. Everyday ask Mummie if there are any errands that you can do for her, and when there are errands to run, say, "sure Mummie" and give her a big smile; then during the day go up to your room and look around, if there are toys scattered all around, or you left some of your clothes on the floor, pick them up; also, when Mummie is busy trying to clean up the house, don't leave her by herself, but ask Mummie if you can help take care of baby sister. If you do those things for me, that will be the finest Xmas present that you could give me. Oh yes, and CC, are you eating your meals like a real man now?

Well my boys, I guess you often wonder why people fight and have wars, and why lots of daddies have to be away at Xmas time fighting, when it would be so much nicer to be at home. That's a hard question to answer. But, you see, some countries like Japan and Germany, have people living in them, just like some people you and I know. Those people want to tell everybody what they can do and what they can't do. No one likes to be told how to live their life. I know that you wouldn't like it if one of the boys in the neighborhood tried to tell you what church you should go to, what school you should go to and particularly if that boy would always be trying to "beat up" some smaller or weaker boy. You wouldn't like it, would you? And, unfortunately the only way to make a person like that stop these sort of things, or a country like Japan or Germany, is to fight them and beat them... and teach them that being a bully (because after all, that's what they are) is not the way to live and that we won't put up with it. What does all of this mean to you? Just simply this, my boys, Dad doesn't want you to ever be a bully, I want you to always fight against anyone who tries to be one; I want you to always help the smaller fellow, or the little boy who may not be as strong as you; I want you to always share what you have with the other fellow; and above all, my boys have courage, have courage to do the things that you think are right. Never be afraid to fight for what you think is right. To do those things, you need a strong body and a brave heart; never run away from someone you may be afraid of; if you do, you will always feel ashamed of yourself and before long you will find it so easy to run away from the things that you should stand up and fight against. If you and lots of other boys try to do the things that Dad has been talking about in this letter, it may be that people will not have to fight wars in the years to come and then all of the Daddies in this world will be home for Christmas and that is where they belong. Perhaps, some of the things that I have been talking about,... you don't quite understand, if you don't, Mummie will explain them to you, as she knows......


A Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year... God Bless you,


Daddy


Lt. Isaacks was killed two months later on Iwo Jima. But his spirit lives on.

Thanks to the National World War II Museum for posting this letter and accompanying picture.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Review: The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy

Sometimes, a book is so beautifully written that you love the writing just as much as you love the story. That was the case with Margaret Leroy's unforgettable novel, The Soldier's Wife.

Set in the small island of Guernsey just after the German occupation, this novel shares the journey of Vivienne de la Mare, mother of two girls, and wife to a husband fighting in the British army. Life changes for everyone on the island with the arrival of the Germans, but Vivienne has to put up with a group of German officers living right next door. It's not a situation she ever would have wanted, but it's made worse when she finds herself inexplicably attracted to one of the officers named Gunther.

In the midst of shortages and restrictions, Vivienne tries to keep her household going. Her fourteen-year-old daughter, Blanche, is blossoming into a woman and her five-year-old daughter, Millie, is precocious and adventurous. Also in Vivienne's care is her mother-in-law who, unfortunately, is in the beginning stages of Alzheimers.

Against her better judgment, Vivenne starts an affair with Gunther. The two have their own island within the confines of Vivienne's bedroom. Here, the war does not touch them. This is their sanctuary. And finally, Vivienne finds the love she never had.

But Gunther is the enemy, and fraternizing with said enemy is not to be tolerated. Vivenne lives in fear that her secret will be unearthed, but it's made all the more so when she begins to clandestinely help one of the slave laborers on the island. His fate will be inextricably tied with the fate of Vivenne and Gunther's relationship.

Most intriguing about this novel is how we view our enemy. During World War II, propaganda made sure that our enemies were demonized, and made to look less than human. And in some cases, they were less than human - the Holocaust and the atrocities committed by the Japanese are testament to this. But there were good people on both sides trying their best to survive.

Is there ever a point when a relationship with the enemy is permissible? That is the question that The Soldier's Wife seeks to answer. 

Leroy's beautiful descriptions of Guernsey and her lilting, poetic language make this a pleasure to read. But it is Leroy's portrayal of the human struggle to shift and bend with the changing times of war that make it a must-read.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day 2011

Thank you, to all veterans, past, present and future. You gave us hope. You gave us honor. You gave us freedom.

God bless you.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The International Conference on WWII

If you're lucky enough to be near New Orleans, you might want to check out the National World War II Museum's International Conference on WWII December 7-9, 2011.



This year's theme is From Pearl Harbor to Guadalcanal.

Here's the description from their website:

This December 7, the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, join us in New Orleans for the International Conference on WWII. This definitive three-day event will explore America's daunting entry into the war after that fateful December day, the harrowing battles in the Pacific, and the victory at Guadalcanal. Leading WWII scholars, authors, experts, and veterans will address the war's biggest questions such as why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today. The International Conference on WWII provides the rare opportunity to hear from the brave men who risked everything to defend our nation. It's the first in a series of five annual conferences on WWII that will bring a new level of insight and understanding about the war that changed the world.


If you can't make it (like me), don't worry. You can still watch live streaming video from the conference!

For more information, including ticket prices, hotel costs, and a schedule of events, visit the website.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Soldier From the War Returning

It's rare for me to pick up a book and read it in one day. Rarer still that it is a nonfiction book. Yet University of Pennsylvania history professor Thomas Childers' Soldier from the War Returning: The Greatest Generation's Troubled Homecoming from World War II is one of those priceless gems.

It is, in a word, brilliant. Not only does it delve into a topic largely neglected not only by historians, but also by the general public, but it also exposes the dark underbelly of war's emotional impact.

Childers profiles three different World War II veterans: Michael Gold, Willis Allen, and Tom Childers (his father). All three had radically different experiences during the war. Gold was shot down in a B-17 and captured, held as a German prisoner of war until Germany collapsed. Allen was part of the landings at Sicily and lost both his legs to a German shell. Childers was stationed in England as support personnel for an air base. Yet all three came back with emotional wounds deeper than any trench.

Based on interviews, oral histories, government documents, and diaries, Childers weaves a complex, heartbreaking tale of these three men and their families, and how the war infiltrated every part of their lives despite their attempts to hold it at bay. They were not the only ones. Thousands of returning vets faced the same problems - unemployment, divorce, emotional instability, nightmares, physical handicaps. The wounds ran deep into their psyche, leaping out like a demon when least expected, causing havoc and pain to themselves and those around them. Familiar phrases like, "He's changed since he got back from the war" or "He never was the same since the war" became common.

But it wasn't just the soldiers who suffered. Families, friends, spouses, and children endured the war's heavy toll. Broken homes and broken families were not uncommon. Even though society had tried to ease the blow of returning vets by creating articles and pamphlets about how "your husband will need time to adjust" and "it may take years for him to truly recover", they couldn't possibly know how their advice merely skimmed the surface.

Yet this is an aspect of World War II that we don't often think about. We tend to look at the Greatest Generation through a lens of nostalgia, one that shows us how rosy everything was when they came back home, picked up where they left off, and went on to live their lives just fine, thank you very much.

And for some veterans, it was like that. Adjusting to civilian life wasn't terribly difficult. But they were the lucky ones.

Every serious student of World War II history needs to read Childers' book. It is a necessary study, one that reads more like a novel than a history book, and one that tells the emotional cost of war in all its chilling detail.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Letters from Home

I'm thrilled to review my friend and fellow World War II fiction author, Kristina McMorris's debut novel, Letters from Home. Kristina is a delightful person and a wonderful writer.

McMorris brings a different twist to the World War II American home front with a well-crafted story of lies, love, and letters.


At a Chicago USO club dance, college student Liz Stephens meets handsome farmer-turned-private first class Morgan McClain. She tries to ignore their instant attraction since she’s already got her life mapped out: a career as a literature professor and marriage to her longtime boyfriend.

When Liz sees Morgan dancing with her roommate, pin-up worthy Betty Cordell, she tries to forget the whole thing. But Betty asks poetic Liz to ghostwrite Morgan a letter, and Liz reluctantly agrees. Unfortunately, flighty Betty heads off to New Guinea to work as a WAC nurse and tosses Morgan’s memory aside. When a return letter from Morgan arrives at the girls’ Chicago home addressed to Betty, Liz can’t stand the thought of not answering it and resumes the correspondence.

Pretty soon, Morgan and Liz become regular pen pals…except Morgan thinks he’s writing to Betty and not the gorgeous brunette he met—and fell for—at the USO dance. Meanwhile, Julia must choose between her sailor fiancé and a career in fashion while coping with the battle scars of her future brother-in-law. Betty discovers nursing in a tropical location isn’t as glamorous as she hoped with all the bugs, blood, and death, but an Australian airman provides a welcome distraction.

McMorris does a swell job of incorporating vibrant details of the home front into her characters’ everyday lives and manages to convey the gritty realism of war in the European Theater without lapsing into hyperbole. Not all story threads are neatly tied at the novel’s end, which may disappoint some readers, though others may find it symbolic of how war never leaves lives in neatly wrapped packages

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Last Best Hope

Heroes are often portrayed by Hollywood as larger than life. In reality, they are ordinary people doing extraordinary feats.

That message is made very clear in the exceptional documentary, Last Best Hope.

Bill Grosvenor was a World War II pilot fighting over the skies of Belgium. In 1943, he crash-landed in the Belgian countryside, and entrusted his fate to the Belgian people. Through great peril to themselves and their families, the Belgians sheltered him in several safe houses, trying to get him out of occupied Europe via the Belgian Resistance line called the Comète. This line would take him through France and to the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains, which, once crossed, would lead him into Spain.

Unfortunately, Bill never made it that far. In 1944, he and another pilot were found by the Gestapo and taken to the brutal Saint Gilles prison in Brussels. He was interrogated, and put in a tiny cell with no lights and just enough room to lay down. But it wasn't long before the British Army stood on the outskirts of Brussels. The Germans took all prisoners put them on a train, the infamous Ghost Train for transport to Germany.

The train never arrived. Due to the incredible sabotage efforts of the Belgian Resistance and even the train engineers themselves, the train only managed to move around ten miles. Wanting to save their own skin, the Germans finally negotiated with the Resistance, and all the political prisoners - including many of those who had helped Bill Grosvenor - were released.

But the airmen were not.

The train left for Germany, but in a strange twist, the Germans detached the box car Bill and his fellow airmen were in from the rest of the train. Left to starve and die, they were able to break out of the boxcar and make their way to Brussels. Once they got there, they were free - Brussels had been liberated.

Bill's son, David Grosvenor, did exhaustive research to retrace his father's steps. And sixty years later, Bill returned to Belgium and reunited with those who had put themselves in peril to help him. From the first farmer who saw him crash land in his field to the women who sheltered him, Bill takes a walk back in the past through nearly every stage of his adventure with his wife and son by his side.

Emotions simmer just below the surface. And it is here that you see just how important freedom was to these people. They literally risked their lives to help this man, and other downed airmen, to return to England because he was fighting for them.

But it makes you also stop and wonder: could I do the same? Could I risk my life for a man I didn't know? For an ideal? For freedom?

Those are questions we all need to think about. Hard.

It's an incredible film, and it shows the true face of a hero. It is not Hollywood's stereotypical character, but ordinary, everyday people, men, women, and yes, even children, who risked all for liberty.

Monday, June 06, 2011

67th Anniversary of D-Day

It's the 67th anniversary of D-Day.

On June 6, 1944, the Allies invaded Normandy, France, in their drive to oust Hitler from Europe.

It was a bloody, horrific, and terrifying day.

But it was also a day of hope, especially for the occupied countries.

There's been plenty written about this day, plenty of movies made (my personal favorite is The Longest Day), and lots of commentary. But sometimes, we need to take a step back and look at the individuals who made this invasion possible - the infantryman, the paratrooper, the tank drivers, the landing boat drivers, and on and on.

It wasn't just about military strategies and generals and officers...it was also about the common soldier.

It's easy to group these individuals into one entity: the military. But looking at those men's faces reminds us that each one represents a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a sweetheart. Each one had a family, a friend, a wife, a sister, a brother, a daughter, a son, a lover. Each one sucked up his fear and did what he had to do.

They put aside their individuality for a common cause - and they got the job done.







Remember their sacrifices today.

For more photos of D-Day and a plethora of other information about World War II, visit The World War II Database.

(Photo credits: The World War II Database)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial Day 2011

"Compassion" by Howard Brodie
"I remember the young soldier well, he screamed, he was just out of control, and he screamed, and there was another soldier next to him who consoled him, and embraced him. That was a moving moment for me, to see that compassion in combat. And these are the things a person feels when he's in proximity to death-- his buddy, that next human being, that person in the foxhole is the most important person in your life. "


Howard Brodie sketched this picture in the midst of combat during World War II. He was a combat artist, trying to portray war as it really was - not the sanitized version, not the version Hollywood most often wanted you to see. He, and other combat artists, showed war in all its gruesome reality. We need to see the true face of war. It is not glamorous. It is a sacrifice of the body, mind, and soul.

Today, remember those who served and died for their country. Remember those we have lost.

Remember them. Always.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Perfect Nazi



Throughout his childhood, Martin Davidson always wondered just who his German grandfather, Bruno Langbehn, really was. His cryptic, sometimes boastful conversations hinted at something darker underneath the relatively calm exterior he portrayed to the world. While Martin knew his grandfather had been in World War II on Germany's side, he never knew exactly what Bruno's role was.

As an adult and successful BBC producer, Martin decided to find out. But what he discovered shattered any type of illusion that his grandfather was just a German pulled by fate into the war.

Bruno Langbehn was a product of the tumultuous years following Germany's defeat in the Great War that produced a generation of hyper-ideological young men and women who vowed to never again be subjected to the humiliation caused by the Versailles Treaty. To them, the great German nation - the Volk - had suffered their fate because of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy, and had been forced to a subservient level that denigrated their country.

Langbehn's father had fought in the Great War, and as a teenager and young adult, Bruno began to identify with National Socialism, joining the very first groups in Germany. He adhered strictly to the party line, believed every contemptible syllable uttered from Hitler's mouth, and participated in the rousing street fights popular in Germany during the political upheaval of the 1920s. His dedication and devotion to National Socialism didn't go unnoticed, and he kept advancing in the chain of command.

In short, Langbehn wasn't forced into this role and didn't enter it reluctantly - he craved it.

Davidson's meticulous research reveals his grandfather's life in Germany, from those first days where idealism was all the Nazi party had, to Bruno's application to join the SS once Hitler took power, to Bruno's role in the war, and his escape from justice after Germany's defeat.

It is a dark, harrowing story, made all the more chilling for Davidson - and indeed, for us all - because his grandfather, the man who'd taken him fishing and snuck him booze at a young age, was one of those Germans. What's worse, Bruno had no remorse for his role in the Nazi regime, but stubborn, irretractable pride. It was a pride that destroyed his first marriage and destroyed his relationship with his daughters. 

Davidson's prose is unsparing and unapologetic as he tries to come to grips with the truth. It's sometimes painful to read Davidson's struggle to understand how his grandfather became such a chilling monster. This is especially true when so many Germans from this period did not wear their Nazi sympathies like a badge of honor as did Bruno during the months and year following the war.

In short, Bruno Langbehn was the perfect German and even more, The Perfect Nazi.

If this book hammers home one point, it is this: that even an ordinary individual, a man who chose the career of dentistry in the midst of all his ideological upheaval (and then spent his time off literally terrorizing people), can change the fate of nations. It was thousands of ordinary men and women, like Bruno, who made Nazi Germany possible.
 
And that is a sobering thought, indeed.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

G.I. Pamphlet Series

The U.S. government knew there would be lots of challenges to face for our military boys during and after the war. That's why, as early as 1943, the Army’s Division of Information and Education produced a series of pamphlets to help guide them.

The American Historical Association (of which I am a proud member!) has quite a few of these pamphlets in their online exhibit, Constructing a Post-War World: The G.I. Roundtable Series in Context. Since the Association itself was involved in the G.I. Roundtable Series, it offers a fascinating look at not only the preparation for a post-war world, but how the historical narrative was shaped by a leading historical organization.

For example, there are no pamphlets that discuss the new women's role in the work place. Instead, it was just assumed that they would return to their homes with nary a protest. African-Americans emerging role also wasn't discussed.

From the site:

However, as the background documents will attest, an important part of the way the topics were selected and the pamphlets were ultimately written was through the manipulation of historians’ ideals of objectivity. Not surprisingly, the “objective” norms the military advisors pressed on the authors of the series reflected their white upper-middle-class frame of reference. As we note in the larger analysis, the AHA tailored its pamphlets to paint an idealized image of a postwar world that was essentially free of minorities, where women happily moved out of the factories and back into the kitchen, and where America would largely dominate the world stage

Check out the pamphlets themselves as well as a detailed analysis of the program. Well worth a look!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Great Plains During World War II

I love it when I accidentally stumble upon a terrific resource.


The Great Plains During World War II website is a digital archive of some terrific primary and secondary resources pertaining to the specific events that occurred in the Great Plains region during the war.

As a lifelong resident of Nebraska, this is a treasure trove for me. But it's also a fascinating glimpse into the specific challenges the Heartland of America faced. Farming is a big topic for this region, and this site has excellent resources for learning about labor shortage, the training of women farmers, and the government's need for production increase, plus much more.

What makes this a wonderful site is the inclusion of the actual period sources. For a historian like myself who doesn't have a lot of time to travel to archives, it's a God-send.

From the site:
The Great Plains during World War II explores civilian and military life in the region from Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939 to the surrender of Japan in August 1945. This project emphasizes life on the home front, agriculture, and military affairs. It provides access to congressional debates about isolationism, newspaper articles concerning the major issues of the day, and government documents that inform us about important public policies that affected the men, women, and children who lived in the Great Plains during the war years. The photographs, posters, and illustrations provide visual access to the past through the eyes of contemporaries while the textual information helps the reader learn more about life in the region during World War II.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spotlight On "Our World War II History" Website

If you want to join a community of people who share a passion for World War II, then there's no better place on the web than Our World War II History. Site owner and administrator Scott Lyons created this website as a tribute to his father, a World War II veteran, and it has truly blossomed in the last year.

Book reviews, discussions on battles, interaction with other members, and tons more features are available here.

Membership is free, and anyone can join. All that's required is an interest in World War II and a desire to honor the Greatest Generation.

Make new friends, increase your knowledge of this global conflict, and pay tribute to the World War II generation. Join today!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Hang Tough: 6-6-44

There are moments in life when someone so inspires you that you cannot help but share it with the world.

This is one of those times.

Jordan Brown is eleven years old and a World War II buff. He's raising money to help fund a memorial commemorating his hero, Major Dick Winters, and the other brave World War II soldiers of D-Day by selling wristbands that say, "Hang tough."

From his website:

Central Pennsylvania student Jordan Brown is a WWII buff and has embarked upon a campaign to ensure that the WWII vets who served on D-Day are memorialized. In May 2010, he learned of an effort to honor Jordan’s hero, Major Dick Winters, and all the men that served on D-Day by having a statue built in St. Marie Du-Mont, Normandy, France. (This larger effort is being undertaken by Emmy award winning filmmaker, Tim Gray, see www.TimGrayMedia.com )


When Jordan read about this effort, he decided to embark on his own campaign to make sure that the necessary monies were raised for this and an associated documentary that will be produced on Major Winters leadership abilities.

Major Dick Winters (whose heroism & leadership were captured in the Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks mini-series Band of Brothers) is known for using the expression “Hang Tough” when leading his troops in battle and also after the war. Jordan created olive green wristbands (to match the WWII army uniforms) that are inscribed with the words “Hang Tough”. (These wristbands are similar to the Lance Armstrong “live strong” ones.)

Jordan has been distributing these wristbands for minimum donations of $1. (Jordan wanted to ensure that children could afford them too.) To date, Jordan has collected over $32,000 towards the creation of the monument. He plans to continue to “hang tough” until all the necessary monies are raised to ensure that these WWII vets are honored appropriately.

What a kid! We need more like him!

To help Jordan, visit his website at http://www.hangtough6644.org/

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Von Ryan's Express

This 1965 film isn't as well-known in World War II movie lore as the more popular films are, but it still offers an exciting, action-packed adventure.

Ol' Blue Eyes, a.k.a. Frank Sinatra, is tough, a bit grouchy, and all business in the lead role of Col. Joseph L. Ryan, a fighter pilot who gets shot down behind the German lines in Italy. After he's taken to the Allied POW camp run by the Italians, he clashes with the head of the British Army, Major Eric Fincham, played brilliantly by Trevor Howard. Col. Ryan makes a few deals with their Italian keepers - specifically the Italian camp commander, Major Battaglia -  in order to get better treatment for his men, and it earns him the dubious nickname of Von Ryan from Major Fincham. The two are caught in a power struggle of principle vs. need.

When Italy surrenders, the POWs take over the camp, leave Battaglia in a sweat box (much to the chagrin of those who wanted him dead) and take off toward Switzerland with the help of an Italian captain, Capt. Orioni, who is now on the prisoners' side.

The trek doesn't last long. They're captured by the Germans and put on a troop train, en route to another POW camp. But Ryan and his men aren't about to take this sitting down. They devise a daring plan to overtake the train and beat the Germans at their own game. The question is, will they all make it out alive?

Von Ryan's Express offers an intriguing, often-overlooked view of the Italian-German relationship, as well as the America-British relationship. It's a fascinating glimpse into the concept of loyalty, and how basic humanity can be destroyed in the midst of war. Sinatra deftly plays the role of Ryan and is a treat to watch. Trevor Howard is his perfect foil, and you simply don't know which one to root for since both have valid arguments. The Italian viewpoint, as portrayed by Oriani (Sergio Fantoni) adds depth to the plot, and it's interesting to see how former enemies become allies.

Additional performances by Wolfgang Preiss, who plays a German major, and Raffaella Carrà, as Preiss's Italian mistress, create a well-rounded cast.

Sadly (?), Frank doesn't do any singing in this film, and that's as it should be. His performance is gritty and very real - one of his best.

Monday, January 03, 2011

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

If you don't know who Louie Zamperini is, you need to.

He's the subject of Seabiscuit author Laura Hillenbrand's latest book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. It's currently on the New York Times Bestseller list and deservedly so. Hillenbrand's writing is brilliant - all the more so because she suffers intensely from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome - and once she sucks you into Zamperini's world, it's very difficult to let go.

Zamperini was a tough kid growing up. He liked to steal and get into mischief. But when his parents were at their wit's end with him, he decided to tunnel his energy into something more productive: running. He became a national sensation and earned himself a trip to the 1936 Olympics where none other than Adolf Hitler congratulated him on his race.

When war came, Louie joined the air corps and became a bombadier on a B-24 stationed at Oahu. While out on a search mission to find other downed airmen one day, the plane engines failed and the B-24 plummeted into the Pacific Ocean. Only three men survived.  The three were lost at sea for 47 days. One of the men died. But Louie and his other companion, Allen Phillips, kept on drifting until they finally reached land - only to be captured by the Japanese.

Interred at several POW camps over the next two years, Louie barely survived - especially when a particularly brutal and sadistic Japanese sergeant nicknamed "The Bird" targeted him for daily beatings and humiliations. Starving, sick, and a mere shell of the man he used to be, Louie refused to give up. When the war ended, he was still standing - and he's still standing today at the age of 93.

But he had his demons. When he returned from war, he sank into alcoholism and started suffering terrible flashbacks. His nightmares consisted of The Bird beating him. He only wanted one thing: to travel to Japan and kill his previous tormentor. But then God stepped in - and Louie's demons stepped out. At a Billy Graham revival in California, Louie gave his life to God and started a new life - one that would include forgiveness of his enemies...including The Bird.

Unbroken is an extraordinary book about an extraordinary man...a survivor, a soldier, an athlete, a husband, a father, a friend.

What is remarkable about Hillenbrand's story is the extraordinary detail of Louie's life while at sea and in the POW camps. It's a story that literally reads like a novel, and is definitely not a "scholarly" history. No...this is a human story, and the very best kind. Louie's incredible resilience, courage, and strength is the stuff of legend.