Monday, October 10, 2016

We Die Alone

The idea of surviving in extremely adverse conditions on your own is something most young boys of my generation daydreamed about.  Just you, a few basic tools, and the great outdoors.  I read books as a kid and teenager that really only enhanced those daydreams, fiction like Hatchet and non-fiction, like one my dad gave me about a kid that backpacked on his own from the Canadian border down to Mexico through the rugged mountains in the Pacific Northwest and then through the scorching deserts of California.  It was great reading.  As a young Boy Scout, I read the requirements for the wilderness survival merit badge in awe, but earned it during Scout camp one summer, and thoroughly enjoyed building a shelter with a couple guys from the ward using nothing but the stuff we found out in the forest.  It was, of course, nothing like the adventures in the books, but it was a small taste, and it’s always been an interesting subject to me.

We Die Alone (ISBN: 978-1-59921-063-6) by David Howarth, re-tells the true account of a man surviving the harsh Norwegian winter using his own survival skills and the goodwill of his fellow countrymen as they resisted Nazi occupation.  The Norwegians worked together with the English to bring people and supplies from England to Norway to sabotage the Nazis.  The title of the book is taken from the idea that while sent up as a team, the saboteurs would split up, if necessary, in order to carry out their mission.  The book’s hero, Jan Baalstrud, was betrayed by a local, maybe not intentionally, helped self-destruct the sabotage materials, and then escaped the Nazi patrols on the hunt for him.  He used athletic prowess and backcountry know-how to stay away from the Germans, but could eventually go no further after a debilitating blizzard trapped him.  Locals loyal to their country helped hide him and then help him escape the Germans, who seemed to be narrowing in.  Baalstrud spent a few harrowing weeks on his own in snow caves, and his body suffered greatly, including frostbitten limbs, but his will to survive, although sometimes tried, never died, and he never gave up, eventually being pulled to safety in Sweden by Lapps and their reindeer sleds.

The story, since it involved so much hiding and waiting was maybe not as gripping as I had hoped it would be, but it certainly wasn’t bad.  I enjoyed learning about the sabotage plans and the Norwegian resistance.  Both Jan’s heroics and the bold actions of the villagers that saved him were inspiring.  I enjoyed reading of the native Norwegians’ abilities on skis and how it often helped them outwit or simply out-race the Germans.  On a more serious note, I always see myself on the side of the resistance in my imagination, and truly hope that I would’ve had the strength to play that part had I been there, doing my part to preserve freedom and the lives of those fighting for freedom.  I sometimes think that I’ll need to be ready to do that in the future.

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This work, including all text, photographs, and other original work, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives 3.0 License and is copyrighted © MMXIV John Pruess.

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