Study Guide

Unbroken Friendship

By Laura Hillenbrand


As Louie and Phil wrestled over a beer, they crashed into the flimsy partition separating their room from the next. The partition keeled over, and Phil and Louie kept staggering forward, toppling two more partitions before they stopped. (2.7.2)

The atmosphere on the base feels a lot like a frat house as these young men bond far away from home.

For each day in the air, the crew got a day off. They played poker, divvied up Cecy's care packages, and went to the movies. (2.7.12)

The men are more than just soldiers; they're friends. This makes off-time fun, but it also makes it that much harder when their friends die during the war. 

Louie was shaken. He'd been in Hawaii for only two months, yet already several dozen men from his bomb group, including more than a quarter of the men in his barracks, had been killed. (2.8.6)

See? This is what we're talking about. The losses are more than just statistics to Louie—they're friends he lived with. 

The dead weren't numbers on a page. They were their roommates, their drinking buddies, the crew that had been flying off their wings ten seconds ago. Men didn't go one by one. A quarter of barracks was lost at once. There were rarely funerals, for there were rarely bodies. (2.8.38)

This really emphasizes the point we're trying to make, and drives it home by reminding us that the living aren't even given an opportunity to mourn. They have to keep going and fighting the good fight. 

The bombs fell clear, and Louie yelled "Bombs away!" and turned the valve to close the bomb bay doors. In the cockpit, the bomb-release light flicked on, and Phil took control of the plane. […] In the top turret, Pillsbury pivoted backward and watched a vast cloud of smoke billow upward. (2.9.25)

These men are an incredible team. There are about ten men on one of these bombers at any given time, and they operate with an almost psychic efficiency. 

"I find it hard to get used to such a thing. Just the other I drove them all to Kahuku and around—kidded around with them but now they're probably dead! […] That's the way it has to be played because that's the way it is—it's an everyday occurrence!" (3.13.26)

This is an excerpt from a crewman's diary, showing how difficult it is for the soldiers to mourn the death of their friends. It seems easy from the outside, but they're all just pretending that everything is okay—it isn't really. 

All three men were indispensable. Had there been only two, they couldn't have pumped, patched, and repelled the sharks. (3.15.30)

Louie, Phil, and Mac make a great team—someone's on pump duty, someone's on patch duty, and someone's on shark-punching duty. Being on a plane together for so long enables them to work in unison with little friction, like they're a well-oiled machine themselves.

Slipping between cool, clean sheets, their stomachs full, their sores soothed, they were deeply grateful to have been received with such compassion.<em> </em>Phil had a relieved thought: <em>They are our friends. </em>(3.17.26)

It doesn't take much to make a friend in war. Sometimes an act of kindness is all it takes, because in war these acts, especially between warring nations, are few and far between. 

Kawamura could do nothing to improve the physical conditions in which the captives lived, but his kindness was lifesaving. (4.18.38)

Kawamura is one of the few Japanese guards who are friendly toward the prisoners. Even the smallest gestures go a long way.

From across the room, they looked like three ordinary men. (5.35.1)

<em>Three Ordinary Men </em>would be a good title for a play based on this scene, featuring three <em>extra</em>ordinary men: Louie, Phil, and Fred Garrett, reuniting two years after war's end. To a passerby, they look like normal friends, but together they share so much horrible history.