Combining history and biography can be a challenge, especially when the setting is a world war. But two recently read books do that and more, offering compelling reads that shouldn’t be missed. Both are set in WWII.
Here they are:
Invisible Heroes of World War II: Extraordinary Wartime Stories of Ordinary People (2019, Shadow Mountain)
By Jerry Borrowman
Courageous. Compelling. Curious. This splendid nonfiction work by Jerry Borrowman profiles ten of the greatest heroes you’ve probably never head of. This quick, eminently readable work includes chapters on:
- An Army Air Force guy who escapes the Bataan death march, was eventually captures, and survived a brutal Japanese POW camp.
- A snappy New Zealander woman with nerves of steel who armed and aided the French resistance.
- Joseph Medicine Crow, a member of the Crow Nation with a master’s degree who earned four coup for courage in battle. He was the last warrior to earn the distinction of being declared a Crow chief.
- Dicky Chapelle, a female combat photographer whose wartime career started in WWII and ended in Vietnam.
- Combat engineers and Bailey bridges.
- The ferocious, fearless 44nd Nisei “Purple Heart Battalion.”
- Navajo code talkers.
- Rosie the Riveter and women in the war industry.
- The storied 54th Massachusetts Regiment of the U.S. Civil War.
- Buffalo soldiers.
- The famed Tuskegee Airmen.
First hand narratives, quotes, extensive interviews, news articles and historical references support this eminently readable work.
Mom and Kimber’s Rating: 4.0
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption (2010, Random House)
By Laura Hillenbrand
Never Give Up. Never Give In.
Hell on Two Legs
In and out of trouble in his early life, Louie Zamperini was hell on two legs as a child. Guided by his older brother, the rebellious Louie finally found his stride in running. He was one of the fastest one-milers in the world. Louie competed in the 1936 Olympic Games and set his sights on the 1940 Olympics. Then World War II hit. He joined a B-24 crew and was shot down over the Pacific. He survived 47 days and 2,000 miles on a life raft. Then he was captured by the Japanese.
Skillfully chronicled by master story teller Laura Hillenbrand, Zamperini’s true life story is the subject of a remarkable biography, Unbroken.
After surviving his plane crash and being picked up by the Japanese, Zamperini is incarcerated in Ofuna. It’s a Japanese “secret interrogation center” where “high value” captured men were “housed in solitary confinement, starved, tormented, and tortured to divulge military secrets.” The story details hellacious conditions in this and other Japanese POW camps. The Japanese “kill all” policy of murdering all POWs if any Allied advance raised the possibly of rescue or invasion of the homeland. Brutal.
Back home in the States, we learn how Louie’s disappearance effected the Zamperini family. How Louie’s older brother, Pete, and his dad discuss plans to rent a boat after the war has ended and sail “island to island until they found him.”
Post-war, the text candidly describes Louie’s struggles with alcoholism and nightmares related to his imprisonment and abuse at the hands of one particularly sadistic Japanese corporal (later sergeant), “the Bird.” And how Zamperini finally found forgiveness and extended same to his former captors. Unbroken was made into a major motion picture.
Stunning in its magnitude and power, Unbroken is a sterling testament to the power of hope, love, and faith. It’s a remarkable, compelling read full of pathos, poignance, and timeless truths. You don’t want to miss this one.
Our rating: 4.5
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October 17, 2020 at 8:43 pm
“Invisible” sounds like it would be a personal read. My Uncle Dick (actually a grand uncle) survived the Bataan death march, and my brother married a woman who is full-blooded Navajo and grew up on a reservation, so I have nephews and a niece who are half Navajo and spend a lot of time on the reservations visiting family and participating in different ceremonies. They know a lot about the Navajo code talkers. It’s the Navajo belief in skinwalkers that partially inspired my book. I’m familiar with “Unbroken” but not with “Invisible”. Sounds interesting.
October 18, 2020 at 3:36 pm
Both are good reads. “Invisible” is geared toward a young audience, so it reads fast. Dicky Chapelle was new to me. Thanks for commenting!