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In the days following Pearl Harbor, the atmosphere in America is charged and paranoid: rumors fly that California will be bombed and public spaces are put under guard. The Japanese continue their invasions. The only place that takes them longer to capture is the island of Wake. The Americans who surrender there are some of the first Japanese POWs.
Louie’s training at Midland Army Flying School goes well, and he earns great test scores. He is trained in using two different bombsights, or a device used in an aircraft for aiming bombs. The more complex of the two is known as the Norden bombsight, which is expensive and high-tech. After Louie inputs various pieces of information, the sight takes over flying the plane and drops the bomb with great precision. The technology is top-secret, and Louie is taught to prioritize the bombsight’s safety above his own.
In August of 1942, Louie graduates from Midland and goes home to California to say goodbye to his family before heading off to his final round of training. Pete is a Navy officer and comes home to see Louie. The goodbyes are tearful.
Louie’s final training takes place in Ephrata, Washington at an airbase in the middle of a dry and extremely dusty lakebed. There, he meets his pilot named Russell Allen Phillips, a quiet, brave, and amiable man from Indiana. He goes by “Phillips” and is in love with a girl named Cecy from back home. Louie will nickname him Phil, and Phillips will call Louie “Zamp.” Louie meets the rest of his crew, namely Pillsbury, Mitchell, Glassman, Lambert, Brooks, Moznette, and Douglas. They are assigned to dreaded B-24 bomber planes, known to be incredibly fragile and difficult to navigate. Though hundreds of men die while just training with the planes, earning them the nickname “Flying Coffins,” Louie’s crew comes to love the plane.
In mid-October of 1942, the crew is told their training will be cut short and they are to be deployed. Before leaving, they name their plane Super Man and get it painted. Louie calls his family. That day, his mother Louise starts a war diary. Louie’s crew heads off to Oahu’s Hickam Field in Hawaii.
Oahu feels the effects of the Pearl Harbor attack. There are holes in the roads and roofs, and the men are forced to follow strict codes to avoid another attack. Though the base appears nice from the outside, the barracks are filthy on the inside and the only saving grace is the bathroom, where the walls are covered in risqué pinup posters.
Life is rather boring on the island. Though everyone is eager to start fighting the enemy, they are not called to fight. Pilot Moznette is replaced by a man named Cuppernell, who gets along with everyone else in the crew. The crew constantly trains and quickly establishes themselves as one of the most elite squads on the island. While Louie entertains himself with occasional and characteristic pranks, boredom is hard to escape.
Three days before Christmas, the men are told to pack three days’ worth of clothing and to head to their planes, which are fitted with auxiliary fuel tanks and six five-hundred-pound bombs. They are handed instructions and sent off to Midway. When they get there eight hours later, they are told they are going to be attacking Wake Atoll, where the Japanese have built a new base.
At 4:00 P.M. on December 23, 1942, Louie’s crew and twenty-five other B-24s, carrying 75,000 pounds of bombs head off towards Wake. By 11:00 P.M., they are about 150 miles out and must switch off their lights. They are supposed to be in formation, but cannot see through the dark clouds, and can’t risk breaking radio silence. They fly through the uncertain darkness, until a colonel commences the attack, radioing in “This is it, boys.” The island lights up in flames, as the planes drop their bombs and quickly race away as the Japanese anti-aircraft gunners begin to man their positions. Louie’s crew just barely makes it back because of a fuel shortage, but when they do, they find an incredibly optimistic island elated by the victory.
Chapter Six begins with some historical context, showing the fierceness and effectiveness of the Japanese onslaught. The war becomes real and deadly. This context, beyond simply being informational, develops the setting of Louie’s story and also reminds the reader that this is a true story. Louie’s story to this point has been mostly fun and at times almost unbelievable. It is easy for a reader to forget that this is the story of a real man’s life. Hillenbrand recognizes this and inputs this important context.
Hillenbrand shows that war affects everyone, not just those who are fighting. She spends much of Chapter Six characterizing the men who will soon be sent off to war, reminding the reader of their humanity and how much is at stake. Importantly, the reader meets Phil, who will be an important character across the rest of this narrative. From this point forward in the story, Phil’s experiences run parallel to Louie’s experiences. While small details such as Phil’s girlfriend or Pillsbury’s experience on his family farm don’t seem to matter much, these details will resonate as the men head to war and find themselves in dangerous situations. The details about their lives help remind the reader of the reality of war and the humanity of all the soldiers who enter the war. The soldiers’ experiences impact many people. For every person injured or killed, a giant ripple effect will be created. Hillenbrand reminds the reader that the families of the men are also incredibly affected. The reader sees this as reserved Anthony Zamperini holds back tears as Louie leaves and when Louise pins the airman’s wings that Louie sent her onto her clothing. As Louie struggles through being on the frontlines, his family and friends will also struggle, not knowing where he is or if he is safe.
Even though the events in Chapter Seven are not always dull, Hillenbrand shows that even in the dullest of circumstances, Louie can make the most of life and maintain his happy-go-lucky personality. Despite constantly training and having a completely uncertain future, Louie manages to entertain himself and others through pranks and pursuit of girls. This ability to find the best in all situations will be critical for Louie in the future as his circumstances become worse and worse. When Louie gets his first taste of war, he shows himself capable of quick thinking and able to execute to the level expected of him. The real danger to Louie and his crew ironically comes after the attack has been executed and the men are flying home. With the plane consuming more fuel than it should be, the men are at the mercy of something they can’t control at all. This will be the case for much of Louie’s experience in the war, and this little episode of danger is very foreboding.
At this point, Louie’s war story might seem like a simple hero story of American success. The crew and their symbolically named plane, Super Man, seem to defeat the enemy and overcome other obstacles with relative ease. Chapter Seven ends with many of the men thinking that their strike has been a definitive one and that the Japanese will not be able to hold out for long. They even remarked that they might get to return home soon. In a bit of foreshadowing, Hillenbrand mentions that Louie wrote to his mother that this kind of thinking seemed premature. Little did Louie know how much longer his specific role in the war would go on, but his analysis of this attack shows him to be a level-headed and calculating soldier, not easily excited, and understanding of the reality and scale of war. As Louie has already experienced in his lifetime, life has a way of introducing additional obstacles after a person has successfully navigated the first one. In The Odyssey and in other hero stories, the protagonist is often punished for hubris, or excessive pride. Across works of Western literature, the hero’s journey often requires the defeat of pride and the acquisition of humility.