Thank you all for your honest and insightful comments on last week’s post. I know many of you have already read the book and am so happy that you’re sharing your feedback with us as we read. I must confess, I keep stopping myself from getting too far ahead. I think it’s fair to say that in this portion of our reading, Hillenbrand really brings to life the painful details of this time. It’s hard for me to read about the three men gripping on for survival, losing hope, sensing their desperation and fear. It’s heartbreaking and terrifying.
At the end of Part II, I was glad that Hillenbrand addressed Louie’s running. I was constantly wondering about it since there was so much emphasis on it in Part I. Was anyone else wondering the same thing? And we see that it remains a major part of his heart and his soul. It’s a reminder of his family, his accomplishments, and all that he had overcome and achieved. Louie never stopped running. In fact, we’re told that at this point in the book, he’s in the best shape of his life. He turns in a mile at 4:12. That’s 4:12 in sand. Running is his escape, his method of survival: “Louie couldn’t bring himself to be sociable. He holed up in his room, listening to music. His only solace was running, slogging through the sand around the Kahuku runway, thinking of the 1944 Olympics….”
This is also the section when Louie boards an unsound B-24 called the Green Hornet on a mission to find a plane that went missing over the Pacific. Green Hornet crashes and only three of the 11 men onboard—Louie; the pilot, Phil; and the tail gunner, Francis McNamara (also known as Mac)—survived. They’re left with two canvas-and-rubber rafts and the desperate hope that someone will rescue them.
This section is incredibly horrifying to read. Starvation, desperation, dehydration, fear of death—just to note a few of the harsh realities that these men were up against every day on the water. They stayed alive by eating albatross, which they killed by hand. The only water they could drink was that which poured from the skies. And then there were the sharks that relentlessly circled the raft. The men—grasping for any ounce of energy they could—beat them with oars to stay alive.
During such crushing moments, you’d think that someone—well, most people—would surrender. Not Louie. It’s actually in the worst of times that you see the true strength of his character. Louie refused to go insane. He was more concerned about sanity over sustenance. How did you feel about that? He refers back to a class he took in college and how he learned that the mind would atrophy if left idle. He wouldn’t accept this and encouraged the other men to join in. Louie and Phil passed days firing questions at each other, cooking imaginary meals, praying aloud, singing “White Christmas.” Mac never fully engaged. What did you think of the dynamics between the three men? After 33 days in the water, Mac dies and Louie and Phil solemnly release his body into the sea. On July 14—the 46th day—they spotted the Marshall Islands. On the 47th day they were picked up by Japanese sailors.
What do you admire most about Louie at this point? Is anyone else finding it hard to stop from reading ahead?
Next week, we’ll be diving into Part IV. I’m eager to hear your thoughts and to read your comments below.