From Torture to Forgiveness - Review of Unbroken

Unbroken book cover

Louis Zamperini was the subject of the #1 best seller, Unbroken, by Laura Hillebrand, and the subject of a movie to be released in December directed by Angelina Jolie. If ever there was a man who symbolized resiliency, Louis was that man.

Growing up in Torrance, California, Louis seemed to be headed for a life of crime. Then he discovered running and set a national high school mile record in 1934 that stood for 20 years. He met Adolf Hitler at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 and finished eighth in the 5000. In 1938, he set a national collegiate mile record that stood for 15 years.

But after transitioning from USC track star to WWII airman, he matured and showed great courage as his plane was peppered by flak. After various missions, his plane was shot down in the Pacific. His route was unknown and soon he was listed as dead. While one of his two fellow survivors seemed bent on giving up after weeks adrift in a raft, he found creative ways to capture water, birds and fish and to avoid bullets from a Japanese fighter who made repeated runs at them. The bullets put holes in the raft, encouraging the aggressive sharks that had been circling. The sharks organized an attack, leaping onto the sinking raft. The very weak but determined men beat off the sharks repeatedly with oars.

They calculated their drift and accurately predicted when they would arrive at an island. By the time they did, the three were emaciated, having survived a record 47 days at sea.

After a supportive captain helped them, they were sent to Execution Island where it was clear all previous captured Americans had met their death. With diarrhea, vermin and little food and water making their health all the worse, they were separated and tortured. Only Louis' Olympics fame kept the Japanese from executing him.

Once he returned home, our hero was unable to sleep through the night — often for even less than an hour — without nightmares. After years of struggle, he heard a sermon by Billy Graham and reported never having a nightmare again.

He returned to Japan not long after to confront the prison guards who so cruelly mistreated him. And to their stunned surprise, he forgave them.

He worked in commercial real estate and was very active physically, running, mountain climbing and even skateboarding. He and his wife raised a son and daughter. He wrote a memoir, Devil at My Heels, lectured frequently and lived with vigor until dying this year at age 97.

He was quite an inspiration.

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(Review provided by Glen Fahs, PhD, Lead Facilitator, Al Siebert Resiliency Center) © Al Siebert Resiliency Center
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Portland, Oregon 97207 USA

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