The sob escaped from my throat before I even knew it was forming. On my walk this morning, I was glad for sunglasses and that I live in the country where neighbors are few. Chances were good no one had heard.
I am held captive by the audiobook, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, listening to the story of WWII bombardier, Louis Zamperini, himself a captive, not of a book but of the Japanese for 2 1/2 years. While an avid reader, I admit I’ve read more about the horrors of the Nazis than those of the Japanese. It’s been excruciatingly painful to learn of the depths of cruelty of another group of humanity almost 6000 miles away from Germany. After listening for several hours to the difficulties of Zamperini’s 47 days on a raft after his plane went down on the Sea of Japan, and then the description of drifting onto a Japanese-held island and into POW camps, I was exhausted from his horrific treatment which was only followed by treatment more horrific. I cannot leave this book for long but at times I’ve had to expend some physical energy just to sustain my own stamina for the story.
So when the narrator spoke these words on my walk this morning, the relief was too much: “Louie was in the [POW] compound alone when Ghost Ship [a US aircraft] dipped under the clouds, skimmed the rice patty, dropped its first load, and began a long circle for a second drop. Hearing the bomber, sleepy men shuffled out of the barracks and began running into the drop zone. Louie saw the plane coming back and begin trying to to alert the men. As he descended, Kenny saw POWs scattered over the patty, looking dirty, ragged and haggard. And a lone man trying to pull them back. He aborted the drop and circled again. By the time he returned, Louie had cleared the patty. The second drop rolled out. Kenny turned the plane again, descended very low over camp and dipped his wings. Louie stood under him in a crowd of POWs waiving his shirt.”
My own relief as merely a reader/listener to the knowledge that the long nightmare was over was startling to me. What must it have been like for 2nd Lieutenant Louis Zamperini and the other emaciated, collection of skin and bones to see pallets of sustenance float from the sky and experience the respect of a tipped wing? Respect was a distant memory for these men who later determined to leave the camp without hatred for their captors. I hit pause and walked in silence. I could only think about how thankful I am for hot water, more food than I should consume, a warm home and a bed. And freedom. Not a bad way to enter the week of Thanksgiving.
Wishing you wisdom,
Deborah Bennett Berecz