In June 1943, Army Air Force bombardier and former Olympic runner Louie Zamperini lies across a small raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. With him on the raft are the two other surviving crewmen of his crashed plane. The men have no rations or drinking water and hungry sharks constantly encircle them. The U.S. military has already given them up for dead.
Hillenbrand starts the book by throwing the reader into the middle of the action, immediately laying the foundation for the theme of Survival and Resilience as her characters face dire circumstances. Her description heightens the hopelessness of their situation, giving the reader a sense of how much strength, fortitude, and resourcefulness it took these men to survive.
On the morning of their twenty-seventh day at sea, a Japanese bomber spots the raft and opens machinegun fire on them. To escape the bullets, the men jump into the ocean. The bullets nearly hit them, but the men survive and climb back aboard the raft. As the bomber makes a second attempt, Louie dives into the water. Too weak to follow, the other crewmen take their chances on the raft. As the bomber flies overhead, the sharks swim toward Louie.
This preface introduces one of Louie’s core personality traits: resilience. Resilience is the ability to recover from and respond effectively to adversity. In this scene, Louie embodies the trait. Not letting the plane crash, the starvation, or the sharks break his spirit, Louie distinguishes himself from his crewmates, diving into the ocean to save himself rather than giving up and leaving his fate to chance or the accuracy of the bomber. This preface is an introductory snapshot of the adversity that Louie will face, and resiliently overcome, his entire life.