Summary and Analysis
Part II Chapter 6: The Flying Coffin
In the Army Air Corps, Louie trains as a bombardier and joins a crew that flies the B-24 Liberator class of airplane nicknamed “The Flying Coffin.” In December 1941, Japan attacks the United States at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and on the island of Wake Atoll. Meanwhile, Louie graduates from Army Flying School and is commissioned as a second lieutenant. After that, he continues training and becomes friends with Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips, a pilot and the son of a pastor in Indiana. On November 2, 1942, Louie, Phil, and the rest of their crew take their B-24 (nicknamed “Super Man”) and fly into the war. They are stationed in Hawaii, at Hickam Field on the island of Oahu.
Louie doesn’t want to be drafted into war, but military service becomes something of a second redemption for him. The aimless, unmotivated college dropout suddenly finds himself back in an atmosphere where a hundred kinds of “Petes” (commanders, fellow soldiers, and especially Phil) demand that he improve, excel, and succeed. His training as a bombardier is difficult, but now he has a whole team of people who not only want him to be the best at what he does, they need him to be the best. Where he has failed before, Louie now thrives and succeeds.
In this chapter, Hillenbrand emphasizes what she considers to be vitally important: She is telling a true story. As a result, this chapter is filled with specific details and data about WWII. These facts lend credence to the tales she relates about Louie’s war experiences. For example, she writes about the first battle of Wake Atoll—even though Louie has nothing to do with it—because the battle sets a precedent for the Japanese enslavement of American POWs. She explains the “Norden bombsight” in detail. She includes pictures of family and friends, and gives detailed lists of Louie’s B-24 bomber crew. In short, she wants readers to know that the events in her biography are factual.