Excerpt from “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand ~~The Beam~~

picture-Unbroken-HillenbrandOne morning, the Bird ordered Louie to come before him. He said that the goat had gotten loose, broken into a grain bin, and gorged himself. The animal was deathly ill, and it was Louie’s fault. Louie knew that his knot had been secure. If the goat had gotten loose, someone had untied him. The goat died.
Terrified of retribution, Louie tried to hide from the Bird, but his dysentery was becoming very serious. Risking being seen by the Bird, he went to the camp doctor to plead for medication. The Bird ran him down, demanding to know if he had received permission to approach the doctor. Louie said no.
The Bird marched Louie away from the doctor’s shack, passing Tinker and Wade, who’d been ordered to work outside. Out in the compound, the Bird halted. Lying on the ground before them was a thick, heavy wooden beam, some six feet long. Pick it up, the Bird said. With some effort, Louie hoisted it up, and the Bird ordered him to lift it high and hold it directly over his head. Louie heaved the beam up. The Bird called a guard over. If the prisoner lowers his arms, the Bird told him, hit him with your gun. The Bird walked to a nearby shack, climbed on the roof, and settled in to watch.
Louie stood in the sun, holding up the beam. The Bird stretched over the roof like a contented cat, calling to the Japanese who walked by, pointing to Louie and laughing. Louie locked his eyes on the Bird’s face, radiating hatred.
Several minutes passed. Louie stood, eyes on the Bird. The beam felt heavier and heavier, the pain more intense. The Bird watched Louie, amused by his suffering, mocking him. Wade and Tinker went on with their work, stealing anxious glances at the scene across the compound. Wade had looked at the camp clock when Louie had first lifted the beam. He became more and more conscious of how much time was passing.
Five more minutes passed, then ten. Louie’s arms began to waver and go numb. His body shook. The beam tipped. The guard jabbed Louie with his gun, and Louie straightened up. Less and less blood was reaching his head, and he began to feel confused, his thoughts gauzy, the camp swimming around him. He felt his consciousness slipping, his mind losing adhesion, until all he knew was a single thought: He cannot break me. Across the compound, the Bird had stopped laughing.
Time ticked on, and still Louie remained in the same position, conscious and yet not, the beam over his head, his eyes on the Bird’s face, enduring long past when his strength should have given out. “Something went on inside of me,” he said later. “I don’t know what it was.”
There was a flurry of motion ahead of him, the Bird leaping down from the roof and charging toward him, enraged. Watanabe’s fist rammed into Louie’s stomach, and Louie folded over in agony. The beam dropped, striking Louie’s head. He flopped to the ground.
When he woke, he didn’t know where he was or what had happened. He saw Wade and some other POWs, along with a few guards, crouched around him. The Bird was gone. Louie had no memory of the last several minutes, and had no idea how long he’d stood there. But Wade had looked at the clock when Louie had fallen.
Louie had held the beam aloft for thirty-seven minutes.


1 Comment

Filed under Literature, Military, Non-Fiction

One response to “Excerpt from “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand ~~The Beam~~

  1. Laura Hillenbrand was born in Fairfax, Virginia, USA on 15 May 1967.
    “Unbroken” was published in 2014, being the biography of Louis Zamperini, a former Olympian, air crash survivor at sea, and a prisoner of war.
    Louis Zamperini was born in New York on 26 January 1917, and died on 2 July 2014, aged 97 years.
    Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe was an Imperial Japanese Army sergeant who served at POW camps in Japan. After Japan’s defeat, the US Occupation authorities classified Watanabe as a war criminal for his mistreatment of prisoners of war.

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