Mitchell Zuckoff brings an astounding, forgotten story of World War II back to life.
“Cold in Greenland is almost a living thing, a tormenting force that robs strapping men of strength, denies them rest, and refuses them comfort. In time, it kills like a python, squeezing life from its victims.” Brrr! I took another sip of my cocoa and huddled closer under my warm blankets. Things get heavy quickly in Mitchell Zuckoff’s Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heros of World War II.
The book is a nonfiction account of a botched World War II rescue attempt that left nine men stranded on a Greenland glacier in the back half of a B-17 bomber. The winter months – replete with crushing cold, storms, and little daylight – strangled hope for a quick rescue. Zuckoff jumps between 1942 and 2012, telling the harrowing story of the survivors and, much less compellingly, the story of a modern recovery operation, of which he was a part.
One thing you should understand about Greenland is that it is cold and big. Very cold and very big. It’s so cold there that snow huddles together for warmth, creating huge glaciers that flow like rivers of ice to the sea. If you count the cold as a character, then “Frozen in Time” is a character-driven story.
One Coast Guard plane, a Grumman Duck (think bi-plane that can land in water), actually managed to land on the crevasse-ridden glacier – a near impossible feat – and cart two of the men back to safety. On their second attempt, they landed and got one more on board, but horrible weather got the best of them as they flew back and they crashed. The original nine were down to six. The patient cold slowly chipped away at that number.
The men took shelter in the tail section of their B-17, which sat precariously on the edge of a crevasse. No one seriously thought they would make it through the month.
The Duck is the plane that got the 2012 story line rolling. Zuckoff met a man named Lou Sapienza, who was determined to bring that crashed Duck back from Greenland, despite the fact that it had been lost to the ages and was probably covered by 30 feet of snow.