Unbroken

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Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips Character Analysis

Louie’s pilot and dependable best friend during the war. One of the survivors of the plane crash, he remains confident and good-spirited on the raft. Despite not bearing any responsibility for the crash, Phil’s strong moral conscience makes him feel guilt for the dead crewmen. A quiet man, Phil’s deep religious convictions and his love for his fiancé Cecy Perry help him bear and survive the experiences of war with graceful fortitude.

Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips Quotes in Unbroken

The Unbroken quotes below are all either spoken by Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips or refer to Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Survival and Resilience  Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Random House edition of Unbroken published in 2010.
Chapter 6 Quotes

From this day forward, until victory or defeat, transfer, discharge, capture, or death took them from it, the vast Pacific would be beneath and around them. Its bottom was already littered with downed warplanes and the ghosts of lost airmen. Every day of this long and ferocious war, more would join them.

Related Characters: Louis “Louie” Zamperini , Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Louie and his new friend, Phil, prepare for a career in the military. They're being sent to Japan, where some of the most brutal fighting of World War Two took place. Hillebrand depicts their journey across the Pacific Ocean as a dangerous trek, in which they're surrounded by death in one form or another ("the ghosts of lost airmen"). As the war goes on, we're told, more and more soldiers will be killed. The passage is important because it conveys the extent of the danger Louie is about to face. He's dealt with adversity before, but it's not until now that he'll truly risk his life.

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Chapter 8 Quotes

In World War II, 35,933 AAF planes were lost in combat and accidents. The surprise of the attrition rate is that only a fraction of the ill-fated planes were lost in combat. In 1943 in the Pacific Ocean Areas theater in which Phil’s crew served, for every plane lost in combat, some six planes were lost in accidents. Over time, combat took a greater toll, but combat losses never overtook noncombat losses.

Related Characters: Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips
Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we learn a surprising fact: during World War Two, the vast majority of airplanes in the Pacific were lost because of accidents--in other words, the planes went down because they malfunctioned, the pilot erred, the weather was bad, or other reasons--not because a Japanese enemy shot them down. Hillebrand has no illusions about the virtues of war: although Louie enters the war in part because he thinks of combat as an inherently heroic, admirable profession, the reality is that war is often undignified and full of meaningless death. The passage also foreshadows some of the accidents that will get Louie in trouble later in the book: he's as much a victim of his own faulty machinery as he is of the Japanese army.

And like everyone else, Louie and Phil drank. After a few beers, Louie said, it was possible to briefly forget dead friends.

Related Characters: Louis “Louie” Zamperini , Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Louie begins to develop a love for drinking. Alcohol isn't very good for a professional athlete, but when Louie is in the midst of World War Two--i.e., when he's surrounded by death and destruction--alcohol is a convenient way to forget about the horrors of his reality. Louie's alcohol consumption will later get him in big trouble, but for now it seems completely defensible: it would take a superhuman to survive World War II while acknowledging, head-on, the brutality of the conflict, and not seeking some kind of relief or escape. Louie is strong enough to run the fastest lap in Olympic history, but he's not strong enough to face the realities of World War Two.

Chapter 9 Quotes

When they arrived at the crash site, the men were astonished by what they saw. Two life rafts, holding the entire five-man B-25 crew, floated amid plane debris. Around them, the ocean was churning with hundreds of sharks, some of which looked twenty feet long. Knifing agitated circles in the water, the creatures seemed on the verge of overturning the rafts.

Related Characters: Louis “Louie” Zamperini , Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips
Related Symbols: Sharks
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Louie's crew rescues a group of men from shark-infested waters. The men are swimming in the ocean, trying to escape the sharks, which threaten to eat them alive. Louie and his friends are shocked and terrified by the sight of so many bloodthirsty animals. The passage reiterates the presence of death and danger in Louie's life now: as a soldier, he has to contend with the dangers of the natural world, not just of the Japanese army. Next to the sharks, the sailors and their life rafts seem incredibly fragile, barely capable of withstanding the sharks' attacks. At the same time, the sharks are just following their nature--they aren't any more bloodthirsty or vicious than any other animal trying to eat. It's only humans who are capable of real cruelty--it's a human war that has brought the sailors to this conflict with nature. The passage also foreshadows some of the dangers that Louie will experience personally when he's sent adrift in the ocean.

Chapter 14 Quotes

For Louie and Phil, the conversations were healing, pulling them out of their suffering and setting the future before them as a concrete thing. As they imagined themselves back in the world again, they willed a happy ending onto their ordeal and made it their expectation. With these talks, they created something to live for.

Related Characters: Louis “Louie” Zamperini , Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips
Page Number: 153
Explanation and Analysis:

Back in the lifeboat, Louie, Phil, and Mac try their best to survive in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Mac is currently slipping into despair, but Louie and Phil try to keep their hopes up. The two were already friends before the accident, so they have an easy time bonding with each other, and here they try to keep up their optimism and mental acuity by quizzing each other, recalling memories, and telling stories.

What's the point of having chats like these on a life raft--what purpose could they possibly serve? One of Louie's key insights, both here and later in the book, is that adversity is mental as much as it is physical. In other words, Louie doesn't just have to deal with the challenges of having no food--he has to keep his sanity during the ordeal (by the same token, he had to focus his mind in winning the race, not just focus his body in running). Louie is a great athlete and a great human being because he understands the psychological component of danger--he has incredible willpower, which helps him survive.

They bowed their heads together as Louie prayed. If God would quench their thirst, he vowed, he’d dedicate his life to him. The next day, by divine intervention or the fickle humors of the tropics, the sky broke open and rain poured down. Twice more the water ran out, twice more they prayed, and twice more the rain came.

Related Characters: Louis “Louie” Zamperini , Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Louie prays to God, and his prayers are seemingly answered. Louie is getting desperate--he's going to die of thirst if he's not rescued soon. In his desperation, Louie takes solace in prayer and faith--he even promises God to devote his life to religion if there's rain. Almost miraculously, it rains shortly afterwards, saving Louie's life.

Hillenbrand isn't saying outright that God saved Louie's life--she leaves it up to readers to decide if the event was a coincidence or fate. And yet the broader point seems to be that Louie finds the courage to take a "leap of faith" in his time of need. In other words, Louie turns to God out of desperation, once again hanging onto his sense of optimism in the midst of a crisis.

Chapter 18 Quotes

This self-respect and sense of self-worth, the innermost armament of the soul, lies at the heart of humanness; to be deprived of it is to be dehumanized, to be cleaved from, and cast below, mankind. Men subjected to dehumanizing treatment experience profound wretchedness and loneliness and find that hope is almost impossible to retain.

Related Characters: Louis “Louie” Zamperini , Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips
Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:

In his next ordeal, Louie's faith and optimism are tested even more rigorously. During his time as a prisoner of war, Louie isn't just tortured and deprived of food and water--he's humiliated and dehumanized by his Japanese captors. The Japanese soldiers force Louie to perform humiliating actions, and they laugh at him, treating him like an animal. Hillenbrand notes that Louie's dehumanization at the hands of the enemy soldiers is more damaging than his physical torture. Louie is an optimist--he can always look ahead to the future because he sees the bright side of everything. But because his captors treat him like an animal, Louie finds his optimism fading away--he begins to despise himself, falling in line with the way his guards treat him. The passage reconfirms one of the book's key ideas: psychological strength is just as or more important than physical strength for attaining success.

Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen. The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man’s soul in his body long past the point at which the body should have surrendered it. The loss of it can carry a man off as surely as thirst, hunger, exposure, and asphyxiation, and with greater cruelty. In places like Kwajalein, degradation could be as lethal as a bullet.

Related Characters: Louis “Louie” Zamperini , Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Louie is finally treated with kindness and respect by one of his prison guards, a man named Kawamura. Kawamura doesn't go along with his fellow soldiers in humiliating Louie; instead, he regards Louie as a human being, and therefore worthy of kindness. Hillenbrand notes that Kawamura's kindness might have saved Louie's life, because optimism and basic dignity is a key force for survival. When people learn to respect themselves, they find new courage, which helps them succeed. Optimism can be an almost physical feeling, just as despair can cause concrete problems with a person's breathing, circulation, and general health. We've already seen evidence for such an idea, but here Hillenbrand makes her point especially clearly: psychological strength is more important than physical strength, at least for survival.

Chapter 35 Quotes

For these men, the central struggle of postwar life was to restore their dignity and find a way to see the world as something other than menacing blackness. There was no one right way to peace; every man had to find his own path, according to his own history. Some succeeded. For others, the war would never really end.

Related Characters: Louis “Louie” Zamperini , Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips , Fred Garret
Page Number: 357
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final third of the book, Hillenbrand changes her focus from war and athleticism to psychology. The book has been psychological all along, of course—we’ve seen what’s going on in Louie’s mind while he’s running or surviving the lifeboat—but now, Louie’s mind becomes the true “battleground.” As Hillenbrand says here, many soldiers returned from World War Two without ever really recovering their old lives: the experience of so much bloodshed and trauma was too much for them to bear. Each soldier had suffered in a different way—as a result, there was no easy fix for the trauma of warfare.

In effect, the final third of the book is about whether or not Louie can regain control of his own mind, or if he’ll plummet into guilt, despair, and resentment.

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Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips Character Timeline in Unbroken

The timeline below shows where the character Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips appears in Unbroken. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 6: The Flying Coffin
Survival and Resilience  Theme Icon
War and Identity  Theme Icon
At an airbase in Ephrata, Washington, Louie, now an officer, meets his pilot Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips. A quiet man, Phil is always cool under pressure and deeply in love with... (full context)
Chapter 7: “This Is It, Boys”
Belief and Faith Theme Icon
...home. With the airbase in sight, one of the engines runs out of gas. As Phil touches the plane down on the airstrip, the engines sputter and die. If they had... (full context)
Redemption and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
War and Identity  Theme Icon
...of the men think the war will be won in a matter of months. Doubtful, Phil writes a letter to his mother, saying that all the talk of victory is too... (full context)
Chapter 9: Five-hundred and Ninety-four Holes
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War and Identity  Theme Icon
...plans to throw them out of the window to slow the plane on landing, but Phil safely lands the plane without the need of the parachutes. (full context)
Chapter 10: The Stinking Six
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Eventually, the army assigns Louie, Phil, and Cuppernell to another crew. The only person of note is Francis “Mac” McNamara, who... (full context)
Chapter 11: “Nobody’s Going to Live Through This”
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...the engine, causing a second engine to blow out. With nothing else he can do, Phil tells the crew to prepare for the crash. (full context)
Chapter 12: Downed
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On the surface, Phil and Mac stay afloat by holding on to some of the plane’s debris. Phil has... (full context)
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...temperature drops and the sharks rub their backs along the bottom of the raft. While Phil and Louie sleep, Mac stays wide awake, terrified at what may come. (full context)
Chapter 14: Thirst
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Belief and Faith Theme Icon
...the meat as bait to catch a small fish. Eating the fish revives Louie’s and Phil’s spirit, but Mac remains unchanged. Phil worries that killing a friendly albatross will bring them... (full context)
Survival and Resilience  Theme Icon
...that the lack of mental stimulation will cause them to lose their minds, Louie and Phil spend their days quizzing each other on trivia, telling stories, and recounting all the good... (full context)
Survival and Resilience  Theme Icon
Dignity Theme Icon
Belief and Faith Theme Icon
Having overcome challenges in the past, Phil and Louie remain confident in their ability to survive the ordeal. But Mac, a new... (full context)
Chapter 15: Sharks and Bullets
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...climb back on the raft but the plane turns around and prepares to shoot again. Phil and Mac are too weak to jump into the ocean so they take their chances... (full context)
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Belief and Faith Theme Icon
...snout. After the plane passes, Louie climbs back onto the raft and finds Mac and Phil unharmed. Four more times the plane tries to kill them and each time Louie jumps... (full context)
Survival and Resilience  Theme Icon
Dignity Theme Icon
Redemption and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
...in the other one is making it sink fast. As Louie patches up the raft, Phil pumps in air. With a renewed sense of life, Mac uses an oar to hit... (full context)
Survival and Resilience  Theme Icon
...of the Japanese plane must mean that they are close to Japanese territory. Louie and Phil predict that they’ll arrive at land in three weeks. Not saying anything, Mac’s burst of... (full context)
Chapter 16: Singing in the Clouds
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One morning, Louie and Phil awake to a total stillness. They have arrived in a calm, windless part of the... (full context)
Belief and Faith Theme Icon
...the sky. When he looks up, he sees twenty-one human figures in the clouds. Asleep, Phil hears and sees nothing. Louie feels confident that this is no hallucination or vision, but... (full context)
Chapter 17: Typhoon
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...men aboard at gunpoint and tie them to the mast. The sailors threaten Louie and Phil, but the ship’s captain tells them to treat the Americans more humanely. As per the... (full context)
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On the boat to Execution Island, the ship’s captain provides Phil and Louie with bountiful portions of food. But their fortunes change at the island where... (full context)
Chapter 18: A Dead Body Breathing
Dignity Theme Icon
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Three weeks after arriving on the island, Japanese doctors experiment on Louie and Phil. They inject them with a murky solution that gives them a rash and made them... (full context)
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After spending forty-two days on Execution Island, Louie and Phil board a Japanese ship on its way to what they hope will be an official... (full context)
Chapter 19: Two Hundred Silent Men
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After a three-week journey full of beatings, Louie and Phil arrive in Yokohama, Japan. The Japanese blindfold Louie, separate him from Phil, and bring him... (full context)
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...with barbed wire. Two hundred skinny Allied soldiers stand quietly in the compound. Louie sees Phil far away sitting alone. A captive approaches Louie and explains that this place is an... (full context)
Chapter 20: Farting for Hirohito
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In March 1944, the Japanese transfer Phil to a forced labor camp north of Tokyo. At the camp, Phil works in the... (full context)
Chapter 21: Belief
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...transported to a camp in Japan. Although this information gives the army reason to believe Phil and Louie are still alive, the army never informs their families because of a lack... (full context)
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The army officially declares Phil and Louie dead in May 1944, but their families don’t stop believing that they are... (full context)
Chapter 29: Two Hundred and Twenty Punches
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At Phil’s camp, officials announce that they are transferring the American POWs to a more pleasant camp.... (full context)
Chapter 32: Cascades of Pink Peaches
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At Phil’s prison camp on August 22nd, a Japanese commander tells them the war is over. The... (full context)
Chapter 35: Coming Undone
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In the later half of 1946, Louie and Cynthia have dinner with Phil and his wife, Cecy, as well as another war buddy Fred Garret. Everything is going... (full context)