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Soldiers and Jungle Queens
on April 30, 2011
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.
The story proceeds to detail the many ups and downs and daily obstacles the three survivors must endure, along with their enchantment of living amongst a lost tribe as if they had gone back in time to early civilization to visit primitive cave men. Eventually Army scouts locate them, drop supplies and follow up with a carefully planned daring rescue attempt. A dangerous mission in itself, finding a way to get their people out when no plane, boat, or helicopter can get close enough to the ground to land, puts the military to the test.
I found the story of Lost in Shangri-La immensely interesting. For certain the event was a rare unusual accident for those that survived the trauma, yet lived to witness a primitive society previously unknown to man. That aspect of the book I enjoyed. However, I never really felt a great deal of intensity of hazard for what they experienced. I was not riveted or sitting on the edge of my seat. I believe that was the fault of the style of writing Zuckoff used. The execution of the story was at times very dry, almost too factual, and had a carefree attitude in the telling of these events. The writing itself, for me, didn't portray the drama that this event certainly must have had.
A major gripe I had was that there was a lot of filler and fluff. Serious editing needed to be performed on this manuscript. The author detailed way too much background history on every single person mentioned in the story. Everyone's childhood, family, school, careers, was just too much information not applicable to the main heart of the story. I think if a lot of that boring data had been taken out, the book would have been more enjoyable. I found myself skipping paragraphs of this mundane minutia, wishing for additional stories of the natives themselves and the interaction between the two parties. It's a good story, but it certainly could have been better with a little more literary drama to give it some zip.