It was near the end of World War II and a mixed group of 24 WACS and soldiers boarded a C-47 – the Army Air Corps workhorse aircraft – for a trip through “Shangri-La” as they would see it from the air but who knows what happened, the C-47 went down in the middle of the New Guinea jungle that was inhabited variously by the Japanese and bloodthirsty tribesmen known as the Dani.
Mitchell Zuckoff’s account of their harrowing tale of survival, despite grievous wounds and loss is an excellent read that has you on the edge of your seat from takeoff to the crash where 21 or 24 people are killed.
Two men and a woman, all horribly maimed one way or another, faced the trackless New Guinea jungle with no food, little or no water and no way to contact their headquarters. It seemed to be a case of whether the Japanese or the Dani, rumored to be a cannibalistic, as well as a brutal tribe.
If this had happened earlier in the war, it is highly unlikely there would have been any survivors and if there were they would either have been guests of the Japanese, who were known to covet New Guinea until almost the end of the war, grudgingly pulling divisions out to fight the U.S. when they landed on Guadalcanal, Tulagi, Saipan, Tinian, Iwo Jima and more. The vision of the Japanese General Staff was one with horseblinders. They could only see two major campaigns, the Manchukuo (China) campaign where upwards of 25 divisions were still held in reserve for China use and then there were the divisions that were committed to the New Guinea campaign, so the three survivors of the crash faced, even at this late stage of the war, the odds against the survival of three severely injured military personnel on a sightseeing flight were little or none.
It took the bravery of a U.S. paratrooper unit, who planned and executed the rescue of the survivors of the “Shangri-La” flight, to ensure that they were rescued to tell their tale.
That the tale was told by Zuckoff is also a bonus. Zuckoff is known for the thoroughness of his research and his ability to tell a tale from that research. He humanized the characters and gave this story the punch it needed to make it an Amazon Book of the Month selection, at the very least.
Perhaps because Zuckoff has the ability to make his characters step off the page and into your mind’s eye, the “Shangri-La” flight assumes its place among the many great, historic rescue missions of the World War. The real heroes, here, though, are the paratroopers, all…