Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff
Nonfiction; 416 pgs
Airplane crashes and rescues are not my usual cup of tea, but after having read Mitchell Zuckoff's Lost in Shangri-La last year, I knew I could not pass up the opportunity to read and review his latest, Frozen in Time. Besides, I have a special place in my heart for the military.
My grandfather was stationed in the South Pacific during World War II, and so never visited Greenland, as far as I know. I can't recall if my father had ever been there. Of course, he was born in January of 1943, and so had no knowledge of the events transpiring in Greenland at the time, about the search and rescue missions and the downed planes. This is the kind of book I would have gotten him as a Father's Day present though--I know he would have enjoyed it.
From the Publisher:
Frozen in Time is a gripping true story of survival, bravery, and honor in the vast Arctic wilderness during World War II, from the author of New York Times bestseller Lost in Shangri-La.
On November 5, 1942, a US cargo plane slammed into the Greenland Ice Cap. Four days later, the B-17 assigned to the search-and-rescue mission became lost in a blinding storm and also crashed. Miraculously, all nine men on board survived, and the US military launched a daring rescue operation. But after picking up one man, the Grumman Duck amphibious plane flew into a severe storm and vanished.
Frozen in Time tells the story of these crashes and the fate of the survivors, bringing vividly to life their battle to endure 148 days of the brutal Arctic winter, until an expedition headed by famed Arctic explorer Bernt Balchen brought them to safety. Mitchell Zuckoff takes the reader deep into the most hostile environment on earth, through hurricane-force winds, vicious blizzards, and subzero temperatures.
Moving forward to today, he recounts the efforts of the Coast Guard and North South Polar Inc. – led by indefatigable dreamer Lou Sapienza – who worked for years to solve the mystery of the Duck’s last flight and recover the remains of its crew.
A breathtaking blend of mystery and adventure Mitchell Zuckoff's Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II is also a poignant reminder of the sacrifices of our military personnel and a tribute to the everyday heroism of the US Coast Guard.
I am always awed by stories of the selflessness of our soldiers, about our heroes. Ordinary men (and women) who do extraordinary things to help others. The men described in Frozen in Time faced great odds and yet they were willing to risk their lives to help their fellow man.
Zuckoff's description of the conditions faced in Greenland during the winter of 1942/1943 were frightening to say the least. I can't even imagine. I often say that I like it when fiction authors are able to turn the setting into its own character--well, Greenland certainly earned that role in Zuckoff's nonfiction book. Greenland humbled the cockiest of men. It was in control and the island never let anyone forget it.
The author goes back and forth in his book between the past and the present. I admit I was most taken with the past and couldn't wait to get back to the survivors on the icecap when reading the more modern sections. Just the same, it was interesting to read about the difficulties faced in trying to get the expedition to find the Grumman Duck as well as all that went into it. I was pulling for Lou Sapienza as he tried to get the money and support he needed to carry it off. I admired the dedication and willingness of U.S. Coast Guard Commander James Blow to bringing the bodies of the World War II Coast Guard Vets home. And I was eager to see the team they put together succeed.
With the crash of the C-53 Cargo plane, the rescue effort began. It was an impossible search. No one knew where the plane had crashed and communication with the five crew aboard was limited. The odds were against them from the start.
The nine men on the B-17 who had been sent on the rescue mission were ill-prepared for surviving in an arctic climate, which is exactly what they were forced to do when their plan crashed. It was a harrowing experience for them all. A couple of the men were injured and all were affected by the bitter cold. They pulled together and did the best they could, not sure it would be enough. Through interviews and documentation, Zuckoff presents their experiences with candor, thoughtfulness and respect. I felt like I got to know each of the men and I wanted so much for them all to survive.
Unlike the cargo plane who lost radio contact soon after the crash, the B-17 crew were in a slightly better position in that regard. They were able to communicate their location in order for possible rescue. Regardless, it would be a risky rescue. Surrounded by hidden crevasses and trapped on an active glacier that hadn't completely settled, the odds weren't good.
John Pritchard, Jr, and Benjamin Bottoms of the Grumman Duck made a bold move in attempting to rescue the B-17 crew. Pritchard landed the amphibious plane on the ice cap itself. It was a success! Two of the survivors were able to fly out with Pritchard and Bottoms, reaching safety. Hopes were high that they could do it again, however, they were still cautious. Weather conditions were unpredictable. The second attempt was met with a bad storm and Pritchard, Bottoms and the lone survivor they had on board disappeared.
There are many heroes in this story, from the military personnel who dropped supplies to the survivors, the pilots who searched from the sky for the downed planes, the dogs and their sledders as well as those on the motor sleds, those who directed and those who were in the field. They would stop at nothing until they brought the last of the survivors home.
Frozen in Time is a tragic story as well as one of bravery and heroism. Men did die, becoming Greenland's victims. But men also survived, making this a story of hope as well. I was touched by Zuckoff's own efforts to bring the men of the Grumman Duck home, how invested he was in their story and that of the survivors of the B-17. I am glad he was able to go on the expedition to Greenland in search of the Grumman Duck. It brings the story home even more.
Rating: (Very Good)
To learn more about Mitchell Zuckoff and his books, please visit the author's website. You can also learn more about the author by visiting his Facebook page, and Twitter account.
I hope you will check out what others had to say about Frozen In Time on the TLC Book Tours route!
Many thanks to the TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to be a part of this book tour. Copy of Frozen in Time provided by publisher in e-book form.