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!