The following is a guest article by Dan McNeil
If you have any doubts about what a sissy you are, read Laura Hillenbrand’s book UNBROKEN.
Sure, you fought in Operation Desert Storm, braved enemy fire, put out flamethrowers with your spit, and cleared whole minefields by stepping on mines and daring them to go off. Sure, you won a couple of Medals of Honor and goosed the president’s wife at the ceremony. But how do you stack up next to a real hero like the guy named Louis Zamperini?
This guy was born tough. Before enlisting in the military for WWII, Zamperini was a juvenile delinquent turned track star. In 1938, he set the mile record at just over four minutes. And lest you foolishly think track is less than manly, understand that in 1938, track was not the genteel sport it is today. Zamperini’s competitors were like a conga line of angry Rockettes, kicking and spiking each other all the way to the finish line.
Below is Zamperini”s photo after his victory in the mile race, during which he was repeatedly cleated and gashed by opponents. You can see the bandages on his legs. But there’s no need to feel bad for Zamperini. He gave as good as he got.
Not included in this photo are his opponents, most of whom bled out on the ambulance ride to the hospital. Just follow the blood trails.
After enlisting to fight, his toughness paid off. Some of Zamperini’s friends were shot down in the pacific, so he and several buddies flew out on a rescue mission. Unfortunately his plane crashed and only he and two others survived. Enemy Japanese flyers, ever the humanitarians and good sports, took turns strafing and machine-gunning Zamperini’s raft. And then the sharks showed up, hundreds of them. Some even began breaching in an effort to get the man-food in the raft. What’s breaching you ask? Below is a picture of a breaching shark.
Breaching by sharks is behavior scientists have only begun to understand. In fact, most of what scientists know about sharks is recently learned, which leads me to believe something I’ve suspected for a while.
Forty-six days later, dehydrated and exhausted from ducking flying sharks, Zamperini washed up on a Japanese occupied island, was captured and shipped to a POW camp in Japan.
No one was more barbaric in WWII than the Japanese. The atrocities they committed, especially against the Chinese, were horrendous. Making sport of murdering infants with bayonets, and raping/torturing women by the thousands, the Japanese proved that behind the inscrutably polite and dignified Asian veneer, Asians can be as craven and degenerate as anyone. Atrocities against the Chinese population of Nanking China were so depraved, that even the Nazi ambassador was horrified, running about waving and pointing at his Nazi armband, begging the Japanese to cool it. For me, that’s quite a shock. I’ve read several books on Nazi atrocities, and I didn’t know there was any kind of atrocity that could horrify a Nazi.
See? I was right.
Treatment of POW’s was especially brutal. The Japanese soldier was indoctrinated in the Bushido code that said rather than be captured, a brave soldier should die in battle or commit suicide. As a result, captured soldiers were despised, looked down upon as cowards, and deserving of any torture that came their way. And once Zamperini’s identity as a former Olympian was discovered, a particularly sadistic guard known as the Bird took a special interest in him.
Here, the book details the years-long torture Zamperini and his mates endured at the hands of the Bird. Many simply gave up and died. It’s a difficult read, and tough as Zamperini was, he was about to give up hope when Enola Gay Tibbets’s little boy Paul flew over in a B-29 Superfortress on his way to Hiroshima.
Informed it would cost a million American lives or more to invade and defeat the suicide-crazy Japanese, President Harry Truman had called in the big guns. And after subjecting millions to murder and horrendous atrocities over the last ten years, Japanese chickens finally came home to roost in the form of Little Boy and Fat Man, the two nuclear devices exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Naturally, when the Japanese government surrendered, honorable and brave soldiers like the Bird consulted the Bushido code book to decide what to do next.
And naturally, the Bird beat feet into the mountains where he hid out for the next seven years— till an amnesty for Japanese war criminals was declared.
Sadly, the war’s end didn’t salve Zamperini’s pain. Haunted by flashbacks, overcome by severe depression and filled with anger, he was considering suicide when a miracle happened that put him on his knees, resurrected his life, and washed away the pain.
What happened? Hey, I can’t tell you everything, read the book. But it’s an ending that makes this relentlessly painful story a worthwhile read. I’d say wait for the movie, but it’s being made by Angelina Jolie and she’s leaving out the whole miracle redemption thing at the end. And why not? Nothing says quality entertainment like unrelenting torture, mass murder, a hero who’s life is destroyed, and a sadistic war criminal who gets away scot-free in the end. Boy oh boy, sign me up for that. She’s really dumb.
Dan McNeil is owner and operator of Cartridge World on South Campbell I Spectacular Springfield Missouri.