Monday, July 18, 2011


 I've never met a character quite like Louis Zamperini, nor an author quite like Laura Hillenbrand.

Photo Credit
Louie is the subject of Laura's recent book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.  Born in 1917 in Torrance, California, Louie was what Laura called a "one-boy insurgency."  According to Louie, in an interview with Charles Morris of Haven Today, he had such a reputation in the community that if there was trouble anywhere in town, the police would go first of all to the Zamperini home, looking for Louie!  Whether the authorities or the neighborhood bullies, Louie ran like mad from his pursuers, and beat them.

When Louie was fourteen his brother, Pete, a runner himself, redirected Louie from a life of crime to a life of running.  Within months Louie was breaking long distance records and when he was 19 he qualified for the 1936 Olympics.  His amazing speed in the final lap of the 5,000 meter race so impressed Hitler that he asked to meet Louie.  As the two shook hands, Hitler greeted him in German.  An interpreter translated.  "Ah, you're the boy with the fast finish." (p.35)

Louie's running propelled him into stardom.  And it prepared him for what was to come.  World War II.

Louie joined the Army Air Force and was stationed in the Pacific.  When his plane was shot down, only he and two other crew members survived.  They were adrift on life rafts for 47 days before being captured by the Japanese.  Although he endured unbelievable deprivation and treatment in the POW camps after being so depleted from the days on the ocean, he held on to his strong spirit.  The harshness of the camps was especially horrible, and just reading about it was "a little too close to home" for my father, who served in the Pacific.

When the war was finally over and Louie was once again stateside, he was haunted by the experiences of captivity.  His desire to kill The Bird, the prison camp guard who found great pleasure in abusing the prisoners, especially Louie, became his driving passion.  It led him to alcoholism and despair.

Finally, through attending a Billy Graham crusade in Los Angeles in 1949, Louie found the peace he craved.  He found peace with God, and his hatred toward The Bird was gone.

In his 90s now, Louie has the most remarkable story I have ever heard.  But had it not been for Laura Hillenbrand, it would never have been so amazingly told.

Photo Credit
Laura begins her seven pages of acknowledgements with these words, "When I finished writing my first book, Seabiscuit: An American Legend, I felt certain that I would never again find a subject that fascinated me as did the Depression-era racehorse and the team of men who campaigned him.  When I had my first conversation with the infectiously effervescent and apparently immortal Louie Zamperini, I changed my mind."  She spent seven years collecting information, interviewing other POWs and family and friends of Louie, researching war records and how bombs work and such a vast array of data that she now finds Louie's life as familiar to her as her own life.  She herself struggles with Chronic Fatigue Snydrome, making it at times nearly impossible to research and write.  Yet she persevered and successfully completed a thoroughly engrossing story of survival, resilience, and redemption.

Thank you, Lord, for preserving the life of Louie Zamperini and for bringing Laura to him to be his spokesman.

1 comment:

upshaw family said...

One of my very favorite books; I gave it to several people for Christmas