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Louis Zamperini: The Airman Who Could Not Be Broken

Unbroken is the story of Louis Zamperini, a World War II airman whose B-24 bomber was shot down in the Pacific Ocean. Laura Hillenbrand, who also authord Seabiscuit, goes to great lengths to paint an incredible portrait of this pilot’s courage and resilience.

Zamperini was an avid runner before joining the Air Force. In college he broke numerous collegiate records and qualified for the 1936 Games in Berlin. He carried his team to 8th place in the 5000 meters, finishing with an incredible 56-second final lap.

Zamperini was deployed to the Pacific Theatre where his B-24 was shot down and he and one other crew member survived by eating raw fish and birds for 47 days before drifting onto Japanese-occupied land. The two become prisoners of war and are subjected to a harrowing ordeal that at various times nearly costs them both their lives.

Unbroken is an inspiring tale of courage in the face of impossible odds and redemption. Hillenbrand takes great care in telling her subject’s story and, using interviews with family members along with tireless research of Zamperini’s fellow POWs, is able to piece together this tale.

Aside from Zamperini’s incredible story, the book provides a lot of gristle for aviation enthusiasts. The story begins with a young Zamperini who sits up in bed after hearing a loud “whooshing” sound outside his bedroom in the California night sky. He runs out onto the lawn and looks up, only to see the German dirigible Graf Zeppelin floating through the night sky. Hillenbrand also details many of the planes and bombers the U.S. and Japanese militaries employed. Especially interesting are the times when Hillenbrand delves into the rudimentary technology the early U.S. bombers used. Her description of the bomb sights those crafts utilized give a new appreciation for the skill and precision that went into operating them.

Whether you consider yourself an aviation fanatic or you can’t tell the difference between a B-24 and a B-52, Unbroken is a book worth picking up. It’s inspiring subject matter and super-fine detail can be appreciated by everyone.

Logan is a guest blogger who writes about the aviation industry and jet charter services. He takes off from Teterboro airport on a regular basis.