I already have something to look forward to for Christmas! The movie,“Unbroken,” produced and directed by Angelina Jolie is scheduled to be released December 25th.
“Unbroken” is based on Laura Hillenbrand’s book, which I read last year, by the same title. It’s the incredible true story of Louie Zamperini, an Olympic athlete and World War II hero.
As a kid, Louie was constantly getting into trouble and definitely headed in the wrong direction. However, his older brother, Pete, intervened and encouraged Louie to try out for his High School track team in Torrance, California. Louie was a natural runner. He set a high school record for the mile which held up for over 20 years. After graduation, USC offered Louie a track scholarship and he went on to qualify for the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin.
After enlisting in the U. S. Air Force, Louie became a bombardier on the B-24. On May 27, 1943, while flying a rescue mission, his plane, nicknamed “The Green Hornet” was shot down in the Pacific Ocean. Louie’s parents received a letter of condolences from President Franklin Roosevelt about his death.
But Louie was not dead! He and two other airmen were alive, floating on a life raft. For 47 days they survived intense heat, raging thirst, and nagging hunger. They were threatened by bad weather, shark attacks, and their own dread of dying at sea. One of the men did die. But Zamperini and his copilot, Russell Phillps somehow survived before being captured by the Japanese.
For the next two years Louie would be tortured in a POW camp. The book describes the awful beatings and psychological abuse Zamperini endured at the hands of his captors. Especially cruel was a Japanese guard, Corporal Mutsuhiro Watanabe, called “the Bird,” Watanabe became obsessed with Zamperini and his athletic fame. “The Bird” resented Louie, identifying him as his “number one prisoner” and abusing him in the most violent and vicious manner.
Finally Louie was released, returned home to a hero’s welcome and married his long time sweetheart, Cynthia Applegate in 1946. Louie’s life, however, would take a turn for the worse. He almost destroyed his post-war life and marriage by alcohol abuse as he sank deeply into depression.
One day he attended a religious service and heard the story of God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice for sin. Louie decided to turn his life around and make a commitment to Christ. He became a well-known lecturer, continued active as a runner, and even carried the Olympic torch for 1998 Winter games in Nagano.
Maybe most remarkably, Louie reached out to his former tormenters and forgave them. Hillenbrand tells of Louie’s trip to Tokyo in 1950 where he personally visited several who were serving prison sentences for war crimes. Later in the 1990’s Louie wrote to “The Bird,” the sadistic guard who abused him, “As a result of my prisoner of war experience under your unwarranted and unreasonable punishment, my post-war life became a nightmare … but thanks to a confrontation with God … I committed my life to Christ. Love replaced the hate I had for you.”
Louie Zamperini’s story is one of courage. Resilience. Fortitude. And Forgiveness. He died two weeks ago at age 97.
His indomitable spirit reminds me of the apostle Paul, who faced numerous trials, beating, imprisonment, and shipwrecked, when he said, “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed (2 Cor 4:8-9).
God made mankind with the ability to develop a rugged will, a strong mind, and a tenacity of spirit to withstand incredible challenges. Coupled with our faith in Christ, we can overcome the most difficult circumstances.
When our lives get tough, Louie Zamperini inspires us to keep going. Before he died Louie said in an interview, “To persevere I think it’s important to everybody: Don’t give up! Don’t give in! There’s always an answer to everything.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman