Mitchell Zuckoff is a professor of journalism at Boston University and a New York Times bestselling author. Previously, he was a reporter and writing coach for The Boston Globe, where he was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting. His honors include the PEN/Winship Award for Nonfiction, the Distinguished Writing Award from the American Society of Newspaper Editors, The Livingston Award for International Reporting, and The Heywood Broun Award, among others. He received a master's degree from the University of Missouri and was a Batten Fellow at the University of Virginia. He lives outside Boston. His website is www.mitchellzuckoff.com
This book is a true story, but Mitchell Zuckoff does such an amazing job of telling it that reads much like a novel in that it grabs you right from the beginning, and for me, was darn near impossible to put down. Imagine going on a fly-over sight seeing tour of one of the most beautiful mountain jungle areas in the world to see an almost hidden, untouched valley and then crashing into a mountain and being one of the few survivors trying to find a way out. But getting out or back to the base isn't easy in a place with no roads or paths, just dense rain forest vegetation, a huge tree canopy and tangled vines both above and below you. Imagine being injured with open wounds and having to exist in a place that's perpetually wet and steaming with all sorts of bacteria and fungi and little to keep it out. You don't even want to think about all the bugs and critters that call this place home. Add to that the stories you've heard about spear throwing, cannibalistic natives and you wonder how these people didn't give up right then and there.
Having read the description of the book and knowing that it was a rescue and reading pretty much what the outcome was, I was a little concerned that the book might not hold my attention. But, not to worry, as soon as I started reading I was mesmerized by the amount of detail and how gripping the story was. Mitchell Zuckoff notes that no liberties were taken with any of the facts, characters, dialog or chronology which must have made it a double challenge for him to put the diaries, notes, news stories and newsreels and interviews all together in a way made me feel like I was there, personally involved with these people.
Besides being such a good read, it added to my knowledge of the history of WWII.Read more ›
Near the end of WWII, a plane crashed on New Guinea. A colonel based there thought he and another pilot had been the first white men to discover an Eden-like valley filled with towns of natives on the island. As a morale booster, he would send planes filled with soldiers and WACs to the valley, dubbed "Shangri-La" after the nirvana of LOST HORIZONS. One of the planes crashed and only three survive - two soldiers and one WAC. The WAC and one of the soldiers were severely injured.
The account then tracks their survival, how they were found and how they were rescued. The author uses diaries, Army records and interviews to reconstruct the events.
Mr. Zuckoff provides far more then a simple account, however. He provides some history of the participants. Especially interesting were the Phillipino-American soldiers who volunteered for the rescue mission and the rescue operation itself (don't want to give it away). The most fascinating aspect, though, was the study of the natives who had lived a stone age war-mongering existence completely isolated from the rest of the world, or even the rest of the island and their interactions with the Americans. What makes it so unique is that he has the perspectives from both the American side and the natives' side because he was able to New Guinea last year and interview natives who still remembered the events. Thus he was able to provide their thinking as well as the Americans'. It is frequently amusing to learn the gross misunderstandings of members of the two so different cultures. Even with these gross misunderstandings they were able to peacefully co-exist for seven weeks.
The background and the retrospective perspective make this far more than just a plane crash sage. Highly recommended.
In the year 1945, on the island of what was then titled Dutch New Guinea, an Army base full of soldiers & WACS were stationed there waiting for shipment out to the Philippines. While killing time waiting for their next set of orders, they embark on mini day trips soaring the skies above the jungle canopy into the land of towering mountains and magical panoramic terrain. A native village had been sighted and those who enlisted for these special sightseeing flights were dubbed members of The Shangri-La Society. Flying over this village that was hidden deep in the valley gorges was extremely dangerous due to low visibility through cloud enshrouded mountains. Tight hairpin turns in between gorges didn't leave a whole lot for airplane maneuverability. On one such run, the airplane nicknamed the Gremlin Special, took off for a day of fun to only end in tragedy. Clouds came in swiftly blocking visibility, causing a catastrophic plane crash that killed 24 men and women instantly. Three lucky survivors, although seriously burned, miraculously walked away.
Lost in Shangri-La is the amazing story of their many months spent deep in the perilous jungle of New Guinea. Lost and alone, they were in drastic need of food, water, supplies, and more than anything, medical attention. John McCollum, Kenneth Decker, and a beautiful blonde petite WAC named Margaret Hastings were in rough shape. Maggie's legs were horribly burned, Decker's entire backside was worse, and although McCollum was able to walk away uninjured, he lost his twin brother in the flames. Walking to a nearby hillside brought the trio a little hope when the jungle walls parted and a group of frightening natives emerged, bows and arrows and spears at the ready.Read more ›