This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.
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Who was Francis McNamara in Unbroken? What was his role in the story?
Francis McNamara in Unbroken, often called Mac, was one of the soldier with whom Louis Zamperini was stuck at sea. Francis McNamara experiences the plane crash with Louis, and survived at sea with him and another soldier, Phil. Francis McNamara died at sea, while Phil and Louis were eventually discovered by the Japanese.
Francis McNamara: Those Lost and Left Behind
After the Nauru attack, Louis wanted to rest. But the Japanese struck back. The small island was rocking from blast after blast, bombs dropping one after the other down the line of tents and base buildings. Louie and Phil’s tent disintegrated shortly after their escape.
When the bombing stopped, some men scurried out of hiding to help the wounded. On seeing Pillsbury stuck in bed, one soldier placed him on a stretcher and pulled him into a cement shelter. Louie and Phil stayed with the others under the hut. They knew the Japanese weren’t finished. They huddled together, terrified.
The enemy bombers came back three more times, targeting the gassed-up B-24s waiting on the runway. As the B-24s exploded, pieces flew through the air and bullets whizzed from the arsenals on board. The American bombs aboard, 500 pounds each, detonated. Then, the explosions stopped. The attack was over.
As morning light crept in, the men saw the wreckage of the island. Buildings had crumbled, planes were charred skeletons, if intact at all, and craters existed where tents had once been. Louie wrote in his diary of one crater that was 35 feet deep and 60 feet wide. Casualties were scattered all over, as were injured men. Others were too traumatized to speak. It was after this attack that Louis would get a new team, including Francis McNamra
Louie, Phil, Cuppernell, and two others from their crew were sent back to Hawaii. Pillsbury and the other wounded were sent to Samoa, where a doctor amputated his leg. One of the other men was too badly injured to fight and was sent home. Super Man and its crew were finished.
Louie was in a state of distemper back on the base in Hawaii. With no plane and no missions, Louie drank heavily, listened to music, and ran, trying to turn his mind from Brooke’s dying face to the 1944 Olympics.
A month later, Louie and the remaining Super Man crew were transferred to the eastern side of Oahu and paired with six new men. Everyone was apprehensive, for new crewmembers usually meant mistakes. There was one man named Francis McNamara, called Mac, who had a significant sweet tooth. Other than that, Louie found nothing notable about the others.
The new crew was given the infamous B-24 bomber known as the Green Hornet, a haggard plane with a treacherous history. The Green Hornet was known as a “musher,” meaning the tail tended to drag lower than the nose. It was a heavy plane previously only used for errands and had been pilfered of parts for other planes. Louie once rode in the Green Hornet for a brief moment and decided he never wanted to again.
On May 26, a nine-man crew took off in another B-24, piloted by Clarence Corpening. The next morning, Louie woke early to run. He asked a sergeant to pace him in a jeep and discovered he’d run a mile in 4:12 in the sand. He was in prime performance condition. After returning to his barracks, Louie learned that Corpening’s plane never reached its destination.
Phil and Louie were told to take the Green Hornet on a rescue mission to find Corpening’s plane. Another pilot, Joe Deasy, would join them in the Daisy Mae. Louie left a note telling his fellow servicemen to drink his liquor if he didn’t come back, then headed out. The Green Hornet’s crew was ready to fly.
Louie and his crew were given instructions to search a 200-mile circumference around the island of Palmyra, where Corpening’s plane was believed to have gone down. Louie and Phil were concerned about the Green Hornet. Phil was wary of flying a plane he’d never flown before, Louie was worried about its immense weight. There was also the issue of missing parts, and both hoped that nothing important had been removed.
During the search, Cuppernell asked to switch places with Phil, a common request during non-combat flights so copilots could gain experience. Shortly after Cuppernell took over, a crewman noticed one engine burning more fuel than those on the opposite side of the plane. Then, the engine stopped, and the uneven distribution of power caused the Green Hornet to dip to one side and sink.
Louie jumped into action and commanded everyone to get into crash positions, then pulled out the life rafts. Mac McNamara clutched the supply box. In the cockpit, Phil watched the ocean rising faster and faster toward them. As Louie watched the twirling sky out the window, his final thought before impact was that none of them would survive.
All Is Lost
The ocean surrounding Louie was littered with hunks of the Green Hornet. Somewhere nearby, he heard a whisper and turned to see Phil and Francis McNamra, without the supply box, clinging to part of the plane. A little ways away sat the lifeboats. Louie reached one raft, then paddled hard with the oar to reach the other. Louie bandaged up Phil’s head, then slid him into one raft. The last thing Phil did before he passed out was turn over command to Louie.
Louie turned his attention to their survival. He took an inventory of supplies on the rafts and found a handful of army-grade chocolate, specially designed to be bitter to curb the desire to consume large quantities. There were also tins of water, a flare gun, sea dye, fishing hooks, wire, two air pumps, patch kits, and a multipurpose tool.
The following year, all B-24 rafts would be upgraded with various life-saving supplies, such as camouflage sun tarps, a mast and sail, sunscreen, first-aid kits, a knife, scissors, compass, a radio transmitter, and other essentials. But in 1943, none of these items was among the B-24 supplies.
Louie looked at their meager rations and knew their lives would be in jeopardy if they weren’t smart. They were near the equator, and dehydration would set in quickly. He devised a plan in which each man would get two squares of chocolate and three sips of water a day. This plan was meant to keep them alive for several days, at which time, they should be rescued.
Mac McNamara was a zombie. He hadn’t said a word since getting into the raft, just completing Louie’s commands with a distant look in his eyes. With the provisions figured out, Louie had time to register pain throughout his body. What he didn’t know was that he’d broken all of his ribs on impact. He pushed the pain away, as he did thoughts of the other members of his crew.
Louie couldn’t help but think about the mysterious way he became free of the wires under the surface. But all thoughts were put on hold by the arrival of sharks. Louie saw several sharks, some as long as twelve feet, circling the rafts, testing their strength by dragging their fins along the bottom fabric. For now, the sharks seemed content to circle without striking.
As night settled, the temperature plummeted. The men were chilled to the bone, so they bailed water into the boats to be heated by their bodies. The only sound on the open water was that of teeth chattering. Phil was still unconscious, and Louie soon drifted to sleep. Only Mac was awake, stricken by fear.
The Death of Francis McNamara
The morning of the twenty-seventh day brought a sign of hope. The men became aware of rumbling in the sky and saw a plane flying overhead. Again, Louie fired two flares and sprinkled sea dye around their boat. Something marvelous happened. The plane made a loop and headed back in their direction. The men took off their shirts and waved them like flags above their heads.
Their joy only lasted a second. Within moments, a spray of bullets surrounded their rafts. The men lunged over the sides of the rafts and gathered underneath one. Bullets whizzed through the floor of the boats, streaking past their submerged bodies. When the firing stopped, the sharks came back, and it took every ounce of strength the emaciated men had to pull themselves back into the rafts, which were now slowly deflating from the bullet holes.
Two good things came from the attack. The men were able to use the damaged raft as a sun shelter and blanket, and they had a better idea of where they were. Because the plane was Japanese, Phil reasoned they had drifted about halfway to the Marshall and Gilbert Islands. If they kept going at this pace, they’d likely see land after three more weeks.
Louie became resentful of the circling sharks. A few more had tried to attack them, and Louie decided to give them a taste of their own medicine. Louie caught two small sharks and split the livers in three. For the first time since the morning they took off in the Green Hornet, the men were full.
The nourishment worked for a while, but days later, Mac began to deteriorate dramatically. Louie and Phil did what they could to keep him alive, but one night, Mac asked if Louie thought he was going to die. Louie wanted to give Mac a chance to say any final words and said he thought it likely and soon. But Mac didn’t say anything else. Before the morning of Day 33 would come, Mac would release his last breath.
Although Mac had originally put the men in a perilous state, his help on the rafts had been immeasurable. Louie and Phil held an impromptu service over Mac’s body before sliding him into the water. The next day, without realizing it, Louie and Phil surpassed the record for survival at sea.
Francis McNamara’s death in Unbroken had an incredible effect on Louis. Throughout his time as a POW, he always remembered his lost friend Francis McNamara.
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Here's what you'll find in our full Unbroken summary :
- How Louie Zamperini was on track to become an Olympic athlete until the war started
- The unbelievable story of his capture as a prisoner of war
- The ultimate fate of Louie and his captors