Most people know that World War II spanned the entire globe and many know that the war was fought in North America in Alaska, but most do not know that the United States had airmen stationed in Alaska. The airmen were there to send aircraft through Lend/Lease from the United States to Russia and also to test aircraft in the cold conditions. Brian Murphy writes about these transfers and tests as he retells a gripping story of Leon Crane and his survival in the Alaskan bush in 81 Days Below Zero: The Incredible Survival Story of a World War II Pilot in Alaska’s Frozen Wilderness.
Here is a brief summary of the book from the publisher’s website:
Shortly before Christmas in 1943, five Army aviators left Alaska’s Ladd Field on a routine flight to test their hastily retrofitted B-24 Liberator in harsh winter conditions. The mission ended in a crash that claimed all but one—Leon Crane, a city kid from Philadelphia with no wilderness experience. With little more than a parachute for cover and an old Boy Scout knife in his pocket, Crane now found himself alone in subzero temperatures. Crane knew, as did the Ladd Field crews who searched unsuccessfully for the crash site, that his chance of survival dropped swiftly with each passing day.
But Crane did find a way to stay alive in the grip of the Yukon winter for nearly twelve weeks and, amazingly, walked out of the ordeal intact.
Murphy perfectly captures Crane’s predicament of trying to survive in some of the most brutal terrain and weather on the planet. Crane was blessed with a perseverance that many people do not have and also by a series of fortunate events. One of these fortunate events was that he stumbled upon an unoccupied cabin that was fully stocked with food and other supplies.
Although Crane did not speak much on his ordeal, Murphy pieced together the story from various accounts. The book is the first complete telling of Crane’s story. Murphy puts Crane’s incredible feat in perspective by describing other Arctic survival stories so that the reader can fully understand what Crane had to overcome in order to survive.
This book is an epic story of one man’s will to survive in a harsh environment.