Saturday, April 27, 2013

Book Review--Frozen in Time

Zuckoff, Mitchell. Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II. Harper Collins, New York, NY, 2013. B/W photos, index, bibliography, notes. ISBN 9780062273833, $28.99.

The name Greenland evokes the thought of lush trees and plants, flowers, and a paradise area. The fact is Greenland is a harsh and almost uninhabitable area frozen over with ice and with temperatures and winds that should not be braved except by those with proper gear and training. The men from the B-17 that crashed in Greenland during a World War II search and rescue mission had neither.

Mitchell Zuckoff is no stranger to World War II writing, having written the book Lost in Shangri-La, and here tells the little known story of nine men pitted against the elements and the struggle to survive and the struggle of the United States military to rescue them.
Mitchell Zuckoff

The book is told from two different time frames. There is the World War II era story and then the modern day search and recovery story. For me, I found the World War II portion of the book the most interesting and I feel that this book ultimately could have been two separate works. This is not to say that the modern story is without interest, I just became more wrapped up in the survival story of the World War II men.

Zuckoff begins with some background on Greenland and its strategic importance during the war. Being only six hours from New York City there was real concern about Greenland being used as a staging area for an air attack against the United States. In addition if Germany had been able to establish posts in Greenland they would have a tactical edge by knowing weather patterns that were headed toward Europe. It was becoming "a war for weather". If this was not enough, Greenland was also the main source for cryolite, a material essential for the production of aluminum and thus vital in the manufacture of war related airplanes.

During November 1942 a C-53 Skytrooper on a return mission to the west coast of Greenland crash landed. Miraculously the plane stayed intact and all five men aboard survived. Thus begins our story. A B-17 with nine men aboard goes on a search and rescue mission that ends with their plane crashing after turning around while "flying in milk". All nine men survive with plane breaking in two; the tail section hanging precariously over a crevasse. The men are not trained for this type of survival and do not have supplies and provisions for an extended stay on the ice. They rig the tail end of the plane to keep it from crashing into the crevasse and it becomes both home and protector. During the first frightful weeks they live on the meager rations that were aboard the plane as they were doled out by Captain Armand Monteverde. Eventually they are spotted which allows food and supply drops to begin. Despite food and the occasional letter from home the men are still pitted against the wild. Rescue attempts are launched and fail. Two of these attempts were made by John Pritchard and Benjamin Bottoms in a Gruman Duck. The first attempt rescued two men but the second ended in a crash landing killing the pilots and the one rescued man aboard. Further rescue attempts were made by various means as the men's situation became more desperate. Frostbite, gangrene, boredom and mental illness became the enemy rather than Nazi Germany as their stay on the ice grew longer.

After having learned about this incident author Zuckoff was put in touch with modern day adventurer Lou Sapienza who hoped to locate the Duck and if possible bring theplane and the remains of the three service men home. Sapienza is the somewhat unorganized CEO of North South Polar Inc, an under-funded organization committed to finding the remains of missing service men and women in the most challenging locations imaginable. Zuckoff is not just an author tagging along. He helps bankroll part of the mission and works with the team once they finally arrive in Greenland. Along the way we see Sapienza deal with government bureaucracy, bad weather, malfunctioning equipment, and a continued shortage of money. Despite the hiccups along the way Sapienza remains confident in the teams abilities and he continues to push forward.

Frozen in Time is a story that needed to be told and has now been done so by a wonderful story-teller. Both modern and historical teams were in a race against time to achieve their mission. As a reader you will probably feel yourself in a race as well as you notice the pages turning rapidly. This is a story of real life heroes; those who are willing to give up their own lives to help others. Strongly recommended!

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