The story behind the story…Unbroken: Louis Zamperini–95 years of an amazing life!

Memorial Day Monday I worked around the garden  carrying around my trusty little transistor radio, dialed in to one or two local shows highlighting Memorial Day events from around the Southland.  I was hooked on some interesting veteran interviews and even listened to the replay of a few favorites. Are you familiar with Louis Zamperini? He is somewhat of a local “celebrity” and I’ve heard him interviewed before, but I am mesmerized each and every time.

Zamperini, now 95 years old, was once dubbed the “Torrance (California) Tornado” because of the athleticism that eventually took him to the 1936 Summer Olympics as part of the U.S. track team. But this remarkable man, and I don’t use the adjective glibly, has a life worth studying. Once you begin to learn about him, you want more!

His career in the Olympics was not particularly noteworthy. He finished eighth in the 5000 meter distance event, but two years later did set a national collegiate mile record which held for fifteen years. But in 1941 Zamperini enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces and was deployed to Hawaii as a bombardier. It’s at this point that his story takes huge twists and turns, but If I were to relate all the incredible details of the story that follows I would need to write a book.

Fortunately, someone else has already done that!   Laura Hillenbrand,  author of Seabiscuit, successfully published Zamperini’s mesmerizing story in the book, Unbroken.

I am not a very skilled book reviewer. I’m generally a bit uncomfortable with knowing how much to tell! I don’t like to know very much before I start a book, but some of the story is well-known, so I feel free to tell  you that on a routine reconnaissance run  in the South Pacific,  Louis and another crew member crashed into the Pacific Ocean, survived a life raft for 47 days, only to be rescued by the Japanese.  He then spent two years in a Japanese Prison Camp sadistically tortured by one particular guard intent on breaking his spirit with verbal and physical cruelty. Prior to the war Zamperini had a bit of a “bad boy” reputation, and perhaps his rebellious personality  combined with his athleticism helped him not only survive, but return home with exemplary resilience to go forward.

Rather than take the chance that I reveal too much, I will leave it up to you!  If you would like to see some excellent file photos and absorb some added detail, I recommend this  Wall Street Journal article. And if you have another few minutes, you might enjoy this video.

I have heard Zamperini’s story many times, but each time I continue to be captivated by his indomitable spirit!

But I was also intrigued by Hillenbrand’s story!

Laura Hillenbrand contracted chronic fatigue syndrome while still in college. The symptoms associated with her illness have kept her mostly homebound and to write this carefully researched book she located fellow POWs and was able to interview some of his Japanese captors–all from her home office!  She interviewed and collected research from experts on the War in the Pacific  and pulled from Zamperini’s personal files, which he shipped to her for her use. Over the course of the seven years she wrote this book, Hillenbrand never had one face-to-face encounter with Zamperini.

Struggling with her illness, Hillenbrand openly credits Zamperini’s story as a boost to her own inner strength. She says, “Louie’s story is a lesson in the resilience of the soul and the wonderful breadth of possibility that life affords, even in our bleakest hours.”

Click on the link below to go directly to the Random House site and view a Today Show clip featuring Hillenbrand. I think you’d be impressed with her story, too. She certainly chips away at any excuses we may have for not accomplishing any yet unmet goals!

Laura Hillenbrand and Louis Zamperini on The Today Show « Random House Publishing Group – Random House.

I think you catch that I’m enthused about this book and about these two remarkable people. Zamparini is an inspiring and delightful man. You may want to share his story (the book) with others who have a particular interest in WW II history, or simply someone who enjoys a story of courage and resilience. Let me know what you think!


Memorial Day Considerations

I thought I’d offer a re-post from Memorial Day 2011. This post was first published within my first month of blogging, so I’m quite sure only my family read it. Memorial Day in the United States is in May, but  the context of remembering those who have lost their lives in service to their country is for all of us, no matter what country we call home.

I recently heard a radio discussion championing the restoration of Memorial Day to its original date, May 30th, rather than the last Monday of the month and the convenience of three-day weekends.  The dialogue caught my attention because I admit I do enjoy the advantage of lengthy Memorial holidays and for many years this particular weekend has been a travel opportunity for priceless family reunions.

I carefully listened to the argument because the person speaking had the only credentials in this discussion that merited attention. As a veteran, his concern was that the original intention of the holiday had shifted to some kind of season opener to summer activity. Although I gratefully acknowledge the sacrifice of men and women who have lost their lives defending our nation, I certainly know that I do not carry the same level of awareness as those who have experienced active military duty. And that goes for their families, too. I recently learned that a good friend of mine is awake long into the night, unable to restore restful sleep patterns now that her son is home from Iraq.  During his lengthy deployment she couldn’t sleep knowing he was in continual danger.  He returned without injury, but the pattern of fear  left anxieties that continue to interrupt her sleep. I wonder if that is a forever change.

I am going to think a little more about the veteran’s request that we petition elected officials to return the Memorial Day observance to its original date, but while I wait for that potential change, I can be a little more mindful, and a lot more grateful. Although there have been members of my family who have served in military conflict, they have returned home. I want to honor those who did not.

CNN featured the story of a young man, I believe still in high school, who started Project Preserveand Honor, “A virtual place for loved ones and friends to both locate the graves of the fallen, and reflect on the memory of their sacrifice.”   I’ve been reading the biographies of some of the young men and women who recently lost their lives in service, and offering up a prayer for those they left behind.

I really should be more continually aware of the sacrifices others have made in contribution of national defense, but it is often easy for life to crowd out that sensitivity.   Certainly members of our  Armed Forces deserve specific attention and honor one specific day a year. Memorial Day does give us motivation to hang our American Flag and contemplate the sacrifice of a relative few for the rest of us.


Shifting focus in the middle of the not-so-good…

This hasn’t been the easiest of weeks. My dad has been back in the hospital. I was really hoping that his “second stay” wouldn’t be for more than a day or two, but tomorrow marks the end of another week. I think we’re getting closer to another go at home, but we’re not there yet! It’s almost hard to believe how vigorous he was a month ago…but once that pneumonia got going it quite literally stripped him of his strength, making mobility more difficult…which only further saps available physical energy. I think he’s in the middle of a vicious cycle. Vicious…good word for it.

So home away from home has been the hospital. It’s hard to believe that even this troublesome time has its own rhythms. There’s still work and certain obligations, although it’s amazing to me how quickly things that seemed important as we entered May don’t seem that necessary right now. My mom has taken semi-permanent residency at the hospital, and the rest of us do what we can to be there in support, which includes taking our turns as patient advocates. I shudder to consider what happens to the ill or injured if family members are not available as additional eyes and ears. I suspect I will eventually have a lot to say on this subject…but I  don’t quite have the energy for that conversation right now.

In the middle of a very difficult time, there are still those moments that delight and remind me to reach for joy.

A very special little girl is turning three on Monday. And what did she want to do for her birthday? We live in Southern California, so Disneyland, of course!

Karina requested to have her birthday in Minnie’s kitchen. It took some explanation to convince her that we wouldn’t be able to move her cake and presents to Toon Town. Mommy explained that Minnie’s Kitchen is for ALL the boys and girls. She settled for a picture at Minnie’s kitchen table.

I had to include this picture, too. There are very few extroverts in our family tree. But drama oozes from Karina. She takes to the stage at every available opportunity.

And what would a day at Disneyland be for two preschoolers without a hug from Cinderella?

 Our Disney Day coincided with the Annular Solar Eclipse. I really should have taken pictures of all the people doing their very best to figure out a way to catch a glimpse. It appeared to me that no one was doing any better than I was at figuring out how to do that. We only experienced a partial eclipse, meaning that even with the moon’s position between us and the sun, that “blazing orb” didn’t exactly fade.

The ferris wheel at California Disney

So four adults and two children went up in this giant ferris wheel at 6:00 pm…


 Yes, I know it doesn’t look like much! I have dozens of photos just like it :-) There were some interesting shadows indicating the moon’s presence, but the best I could do was blindly aim the camera in the direction of the sun and snap away. I’m afraid that this was the result of my best effort. I wish you could have been with me just to experience the unusual light.

I suppose taking photos at all–even from the top of a ferris wheel, just tells you something about me. I do my  best to put my energy in the direction of being hopeful. And that’s how I will end this week.

If there’s anything I’m sure of…we all have “stuff” we’re dealing with. So find the little joys this weekend, and hold onto them.

Working just a little harder at breathing lighter… Debra