On a search-and-rescue mission, the crew of Super Man see hundreds of sharks surrounding five downed airmen sitting in two life-rafts. The rescue planes get to the men before the sharks can, but seeing the bloodthirsty sharks terrifies the Super Man crew. On a later flight, the crew shoots at several sharks attacking a group of whales. Feeling guilty later, the men decide not to harass the sharks in the future.
The sight of the sharks establishes their symbolism as the pervasive and remorseless reality of death. By taking revenge on the sharks, the men symbolically take revenge on death itself. But, as the crewmember’s guilt reveals, the sharks only symbolize the death of the natural world. Since it’s in a shark’s nature to attack anything in the water, the men seem to realize the cruelty of killing them in revenge for something they cannot control.
On another combat mission, Super Man joins a fleet of planes on its way to bomb a Japanese-controlled island. As the fleet approaches the island, the Japanese antiaircraft guns fire into the sky. After Louie drops the bombs on the island’s fuel depot, three Japanese Zeros attack their plane and open fire. One of Super Man’s gunners shoots down a Zero, but the other two maintain their pursuit.
Another extended war scene where Hillenbrand’s direct but vivid writing style heightens the tension that the men experience.
In the ensuing fight, machine gun bullets tear through Super Man and wound half of the crew. The top turret gunner, Stanley Pillsbury, receives a large gunshot wound in his leg but still manages to take down another of the Zeros. Clarence Douglas, the waist gunner, shoots down the third and final fighter plane.
Remember Phil’s advice about a moment of pain being worth a lifetime of glory in Chapter 4? Pillsbury embodies that advice– he fights through the pain in order to protect his crewman and bring down the enemy plane.
Super Man sustained heavy damages during the fight, losing the ability to brake. The crewmen know that their chances of getting back to the base are slim. Hoping to offset the lack of brakes, Louie ties two parachutes to the plane and 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.
Louie won’t go down without a fight. Instead of giving in to hopelessness or leaving his fate up to chance like the other crewmen, Louie takes a proactive role in saving his own skin by using his ingenuity and resourcefulness to tie the parachute to the plane.
At the base, the ground crew counts the bullet holes and announces that there are 594 holes in the plane, making Super Man the most damaged plane from the bombing run. Medics rush the wounded airmen to the infirmly but it’s too late for one of the crewman, Harry Brooks, who dies from a gunshot wound received during the fight.
Once again, Hillenbrand leaves this scene open to interpretation, letting the reader’s personal beliefs dictate the meaning. Was it fate, God, or sheer luck that kept a plane with 594 bullet holes from falling out of the sky?