By the time the crew of the Super Man arrives at the Allied-controlled island of Oahu, Japanese bombing runs have already scarred the Hickam military base. Louie’s crew also gains a new co-pilot, Charleton Hugh Cuppernell, a jovial ex-football player. The men continue training on the island and patrolling the ocean for enemy planes.
The men get their first glimpse of war and what they see isn’t pretty. Instead of a secure military base, they find Hickam bombed out and in disrepair – a sign that war will be a challenge for the men to survive.
Soon, the crew gets their first orders. The men will head to Wake Atoll where the Japanese have built an airbase. It will take sixteen hours to reach Wake Atoll, bomb it, and then return. As Super Man flies over Wake Atoll, antiaircraft guns shoot into the sky. Louie’s bombs hit the airstrip, blowing up bunkers and nearly destroying a grounded Japanese fighter plane called a Zero.
In the first of a few extended battle scenes, Hillenbrand illustrates warfare as thrilling and terrifying at the same time.
When they head back to a U.S. airbase at Midway, Super Man’s bomb doors refuse to close, causing the the plane to eat up more gasoline than expected. All the crewmen can do is hope that Super Man will stay in the air long enough to get them 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 been in the air only a little bit longer, they would have crashed from a lack of fuel.
Hillenbrand primes the reader for the religious themes that will become more pronounced later in the book. While Hillenbrand doesn’t explicitly suggest that a higher being saved the men from crashing, the sheer unlikeliness of their survival might lead some people to conclude (including an older Louie looking back on his life) that only God could have saved them.
A few days after the raid, Louie finds a cartoon in one of the military newspapers depicting him as an Olympic runner and describing the successful bombing of Wake Atoll. With the success of the bombing behind them, a lot 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 premature.
Louie has become a national symbol of victory. As an Olympic runner, he brought pride to his town by breaking a world record. Now, the newspaper portrays him as a war hero, bringing pride and glory to his country. No longer a small-town lowlife, Louie has transformed into a hero, a “Super Man.”