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.