@review ANITA PADDOCK
Lost in Shangri-La
By Mitchell Zuckoff
This non-fiction book is a beautifully written adventure story that takes place during the waning months of World War II. The author is a journalism professor at Boston University, and he documents his story with pictures, diary entries, and interviews with the actual participants. It’s a terrific history lesson and a true testament to survival that utilized intellect and a whole lot of bravado.
A plane carrying twenty-four members of the military, including nine WACS (Women’s Army Corps), crashed in the jungles of New Guinea after a sight-seeing trip over Shangri-La, a previously unknown area, named for the fictitious valley in the popular book of the time, Lost Horizons.
Only three survivied, two of whom were badly injured. A beautiful WAC received burns to her face and legs and feet. A tech sergeant suffered awful head wounds, and, miraculously, a lieutenant whose twin brother died in the crash, received only minor cuts and scrapes.
Knowing they’d never be rescued if they stayed with the plane, they gathered a yellow tarp, two tins of water, and some hard candies from the wreckage, and set out for a small clearing the lieutenant saw from a tree top.
In the hot steaming jungle, swarming with insects and all sorts of bacteria, the group began a tortuous journey, sometimes crawling , often sliding along rocky creek beds and muddy terrain. The lieutenant knew that the wounds of the injured would soon become gangrenous, which they did.
They saw footprints in the wet ground, so they knew they were being watched by natives. Approached by a man from the tribe, who was wearing very little, the lieutenant instructed his comrades to smile. “Smile like you’ve never smiled before,” he commanded. Thus began a tenuous relationship with the natives who believed the Americans were gods who came from the sky.
The Americans knew there would be planes searching for them, so they laid out the yellow tarp to attract attention from the air. They were eventually spotted, and supplies and three paratroopers were sent to save their lives.
Mitchell Zuckoff has managed to spin a yarn that had me glued to the page, wondering how in the heck these three survivors would be rescued. You will not want to put this book down. It’s a fantastic story.