Book Review: Unbroken

Unbroken - A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken is not survival fiction.  There are no zombies, EMPs, or an economic collapse.  There are two nuclear explosions.  This is the true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic track star was in a B-24 crash in the Pacific, survived 47 days adrift in a life raft before being captured by the Japanese.  He was held as a special, unregistered prisoner of war for over two years, and subjected to unbelievable torture and deprivations.

The book is well written, and is a true page turner as exciting as any adventure novel.  I knocked out the roughly 400 hardbound pages in about 5 nights of reading in bed.  It was really hard to put down.  As a prepper, the biggest message I got out of this book is that the human spirit is probably your most important survival tool.  All the guns, gear, food and stuff will be useless if you lose the will to go on.

I'm not going to go into the story itself,  to do so would really take away from it.  Just suffice it to say that what Louie went through was truly amazing, and I highly recommend this book.

Two Other WWII Survival Stories

One reason that Unbroken resonated so greatly with me was that I used to know two men who's combined experiences were similar to Louie's.

When I was a kid, my folks had a friend named Jaguar John.  He was a free spirit, a WWII veteran with a shady past, a wild mane of gray hair and a beard, a talent for abstract art, a wooden leg, and, as his name suggests, a penchant for classic Jaguar cars.  Jaguar John was larger than life and his story would make a great book or movie.  He lost his leg as a tailgunner in a Pacific bomber, and spent several days adrift in a raft.  Some years later, in the late 50s or early 60s, he supposedly escaped from a Mexican jail after being locked up down there for being engaged in the business of... "herbal" remedies.  He left behind a mint condition antique Jaguar in a Mexican garage. 

We had a sailboat when I was a kid, and I remember one Independence Day, probably '78 or '79, and we had about 20 people on our boat, sailing alongside a friend who had another 25 or so on his boat.  Keep in mind that both boats were under sail, and probably 50-75 feet apart.  I was up on the forward deck with several folks, including Jaguar John.  All of a sudden, that crazy son of a gun stands up, pulls off his wooden leg and hands it to me.  He then stripped naked and dove into the bay.  He swam across to the other boat and grabbed ahold to a line that was tossed down to him, climbed aboard and popped open another cold beer.  That's the type of thing that really makes an impression on a 10 year old kid.

We had a local Saturday morning kid's show here called "Jack and the Jukebox."  A little educational, a little entertaining... an aging hippie with his anthropomorphic jukebox taught kids life lessons.  Imagine my surprise one morning to turn on "Jack" and see my pal, Jaguar John as the special guest, playing his harmonica with Jack.  Jaguar John's hard living caught up to him and he has been dead for many years now.

The other man was a former co-worker, Bill Delaney.  I once wrote an article for our department newsletter about Bill, a Marine veteran of WWII and Korea.  Wish I could still get my hands on it.

Bill was captured by the Japanese in the Philippines and was in the lesser-known Second Bataan Death March in May of '42.  He survived the forced march with his fellow Marines being bayoneted for sport, and head shot for falling behind.  On the ship to Japan, he was on deck trying to signal to US planes that Americans were on board in hopes of not being sunk.  Once in Japan, he was subjected to beatings, starvation diet, constant illness, and being slave labor in a Mitsubishi factory.  Bill was about 6'4" and when he was freed at the end of the war, he weighed about 90 pounds.  Bill recovered and stayed in the Corps, later serving as a Drill Instructor on Parris Island and going to war again in Korea where he survived the "Frozen Chosin" Chosin Reservoir campaign.  After retiring from the Marine Corps, Bill worked another full career in the post office.  After his second retirement, he worked part time for us watching camera monitors.  Bill folded his long, lanky frame into a VW Beetle, but refused to drive a Japanese car.  Last I heard, he and his wife moved to Florida, and I would guess he has probably passed away by now.

Louis Zamperini, Jaguar John, and Bill Delaney... three men of the Greatest Generation who used their mental toughness and spirit as the ultimate survival tool in circumstances that most of us couldn't even imagine.


  1. Here is a link to a story about Bill Delaney. I was intrigued by the stories and wished I had talked to my Dad and Uncles about their service.

  2. Bellen- thanks for sharing that link! My memories of the interview were pretty on, but it's even better seeing the interview with his grandchild. The photo at the bottom was on the cover of the VFW magazine about the Korean War. 50th anniversary maybe?

    I've Googled Jaguar John every way I can think of but haven't found anything. His last name was Gunnells or something like that, not sure on the exact spelling. He was not the John Gunnell that wrote a book on Jaguars


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