Louie’s running performance improves as the season progresses. With the help of a new training regimen that involves climbing hills and stairs, he and many others start to believe that Louie can break the four-minute mile. He plans to give it his all at the NCAA championships, but opposing runners box him in and cut him with their shoe spikes. Even with puncture wounds in his food and shins, Louie still manages to win and set an NCAA record that will last fifteen years.

As Louie continues to set records, the beginnings of World War II are unfolding. The Japanese government starts to set its eyes on conquering China. One day in April of 1940, two years after Japan invades China, Louie learns Hitler has invaded Poland, releasing chaos in Europe. The Olympics, which had been moved to Helsinki, are cancelled, as the Olympic stadium is destroyed by Soviet bombs. Louie falls into a deep sadness and episodes of illness. He lets his training go and starts working as a welder.

Soon, Congress enacts the draft. Louie realizes that if he registers before the draft kicks in, he can pick his division. He feels drawn towards the sky and joins the Air Corps. He quickly drops out because flying makes him nervous and nauseous, and returns to his work as a movie extra. When he is officially drafted, he fails his physical by eating candy to spike his blood sugar. Nevertheless, he is drafted soon thereafter back into the air force. He is chosen to become a bombardier.

During this time, the FBI is informed that Mr. Sasaki, or Jimmie, was a spy for the Japanese navy, stationed in California to send radio reports back to Japan and raise money. Louie does not yet know this information. The chapter ends with Pete and Louie hearing about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Both are shocked.


Chapter Four takes the reader into an infamous historical setting, Berlin under Nazi rule. There, Louie has a direct encounter with Hitler. This connects to Chapter One, when Louie and Pete see the zeppelin cast a dark shadow over their neighborhood. Louie has a first-person experience with the conversion of a city under the Nazi regime. He sees propaganda and evidence of the realities of the world outside the Olympic village. Louie’s story is remarkable for so many reasons, including the shocking odds that one person could have experienced all that he did. He is a rare case of a person in the early twentieth century who witnessed first-hand the Nazi occupation in Germany before the war, and then experienced World War II in Japan. And these are only parts of Louie’s story that also include his Olympic participation, his survival at sea, and much more.

Hillenbrand connects the pieces of Louie’s life to create true literary value that a reader cannot always expect to find in a nonfiction text. By including Louie’s full story, from youth through adulthood, Hillenbrand offers readers a broad perspective on her protagonist. One could even argue that she has more than one full story contained within her book. Chapter Four could be considered part of the bildungsroman, a story of the hero’s formative years and education. Though Louie cannot know it, he is learning here about tactics he will see employed by the Japanese later in his life when he becomes a prisoner of war. The world of competition is another way in which Louie actually prepares for real world. Competition is not cruel, but it wakes Louie and other athletes up to what people are capable of. Later, he will not be as surprised. In terms of mythology, this chapter could be viewed as important phases of a mythological hero’s story, marked by the hero’s separation from home, initiation into the world, and return home.