Chapters 20 – 21

Summary Chapters 20 – 21

The Americans seize the island of Kwajalein. Pilot Joe Deasy reads Japanese documents that were taken from the island. When Joe reads about raft survivors who had been kept prisoner there, he believes that he knows the identities of those survivors—Phil and Louie.

The Phillips family also experiences uncertainty and worry. Phil’s fiancé, Cecy Perry, holds on to hope that he will be found. The families of all Green Hornet crewmen begin to correspond. They develop a network of support and hope. Even after the military declares the crewmen dead, their families hold out hope.


Chapter Twenty shows that communication is a precious commodity and that humans seem to have innate need and capacity to communicate. The men prove that language does not need to be spoken or written. Humans always find ways to communicate, as these men do. These men communicate through movements, codes, and even by passing gas at opportune times. This latter action shows also that humor is part of human communication. Humor can help people survive and can be a form of defiance and resistance.

Another continued strong theme is the capacity of humans to survive impossible conditions. Hillenbrand’s narration illustrates the many tools used by the men to survive. As discussed above, communication, creativity, and humor are some of the tools that help the men survive. Other tools include camaraderie, kindness, bravery, loyalty, intelligence, hope, and the will to survive. While the natural setting of this camp is literally bleak and cold, the men keep each other by nurturing a network of brotherhood and support. They pool their mental and physical resources in order to create their own clan. They are bound together by their shared suffering. As it did on the raft, survival depends upon the community and not just on the individual. Ironically, starvation creates mental clarity that assists the men.

The camp offers a case study in human power dynamics and even strategic warfare. While the guards have the men under their power, the POWs are covertly working to take back power. In this way, the prisoners and the guards are engaged in a kind of chess match, each trying to defeat the other. Those in power reflect some damaging effects of power, and add credence to the maxim that “power corrupts.” Conversely, those with very little power, including the kitchen staff, show compassion toward the prisoners.

In Chapter Twenty-One, Hillenbrand takes the opportunity to add layers to this war narrative, to show how war affects many people, not only the soldiers who are fighting in it. Hillenbrand offers stateside perspective on the war, which complicates the story by setting it on different continents. Louie’s family and the other families suffer with sadness and anxiety, even as they hold out hope that the crewmen of Green Hornet are still alive. There is a kind of psychic connection between loved ones and the soldiers overseas: The family members seem to know that their loved ones are alive, even when the military officially declares the men as dead. Louie’s mother experiences a physical manifestation of Louie’s suffering in the form of a rash. This chapter also presents the strength of the family members’ undying love. Just as the prisoners of war survive via the network of brotherhood among themselves, the families at home survive through their bonds and through their communication with other families. They all hold one another up.