Who is Ted?

I'm the father of two beautiful daughters and an amazing wife. For fun, I enjoy the long hours of seemingly endless suffering that endurance sports (mostly running, cycling and triathlon)provide. During my "down time" I'm an avid beer snob and self-described gourmet chef (in other words I like to burn things on a stove or grill).

Monday, January 20, 2014

Book Review: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

As an endurance athletes, we are drawn into the idea of "testing our limits."  Completing a long distance triathlon or an ultra marathon allows us to experience "suffering," and we test ourselves to see how much pain we can take.  The Tour de France, arguably the toughest endurance race on the planet, is a "clinic" on how strong, both mentally and physically, an athlete must be just to finish the race.  As strange as it seems, we relish the opportunity to struggle with pain and suffering.  It is, what we do for fun.  After reading the book Unbroken, these ideas of endurance, pain, and suffering are cast in a new perspective.  This book tells the story of what these things truly mean.
This is the story of an Olympian runner, Louis Zamperini, and his experiences in the second world war as a bombardier on a B-24, and a POW in Japan.  At the start of the story we learn that Louie was a rambunctious child; wild, unruly, and fond of breaking into the kitchens around town in order to steal food.  Through much of his early years, it seems that he will likely end up behind bars, but not as a soldier in a war.  However, as he grows up a bit, he gains the opportunity to start running, and his talents as a track star emerge.  By 1936, he qualified for the Olympic team, and ran in the 5000 meters in Berlin.  While not the fastest runner there, it was clear that come 1940, he will be the man to beat.
Peering through a hole in "Super Man"
With World War Two exploding across Europe, the next set of Olympics doesn't come to be, and like many young men at the time, Louie finds himself enlisted in the Army Air Core.  Eventually, his unit is deployed to the Pacific Theater.  During their first mission, it becomes clear how dangerous and terrifying the fighting can be.  After a successful bombing run on a Japanese outpost, they are repeatedly attacked by Japanese Zeros.  Their plane named Super Man, is so severely damaged that it will never fly again.   Their first mission, however, is a resounding success, but shortly after, Louie and his crew find themselves on the receiving end of a bombing mission.  Laura Hillenbrand vividly describes the feelings of sheer helplessness that the grounded pilots feel as wave after wave of bombs descend upon them.  As bomber crews, there is a twisted and horrific irony in this experience as they endure what they in turn, have visited on the enemy.
Surviving the bombardment, Louie, along with his pilot and good friend "Phil," were soon sent to Hawaii, while they awaited another plane and a new crew.  In the meantime, much of their time was spent doing search missions for planes that had gone missing (according to the book, a staggering number of airmen were lost due to accidents and crashes).  It was on one such mission, that the plane in which Louie was flying went down due to mechanical failures.  The plane was called "The Green Hornet" and it had a reputation as an unreliable aircraft.  After falling into the ocean, only Louie, Phil, and one other crew member survived.  This is where the story of endurance truly begins.
After crashing into the ocean, Louie and his pilot lived nearly 50 days on a raft
For nearly 50 days, the men drifted west from the crash site.  By the time they reached the Marshall Islands some 2,000 miles later, there were only two of them left.  Instead of salvation however, they now found themselves prisoners of the Japanese.  Their situation soon went from bad to worse, as they were transferred from one group of soldiers and into the POW system.  They endured days, weeks, and eventually months and years of torture, malnutrition, and psychological suffering at the hand of the Japanese, who largely disregarded any conventions about how POW's should be treated.  Behind all of this was the realization that there would likely be no rescue.  It was rumored that if Japan were losing the war, they had a "kill all POW's" order that would eliminate them before they could be saved.
Unbroken captures the story of Louie and his POW's in great and eloquent detail, and also describes the lives of the soldiers after returning home.

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