Thursday, April 7, 2011
Louis Zamperini lived an incredible life. The son of Italian immigrants, he spoke little English when he started school so bullies picked on him--at least until his father taught him how to box. Louis had a knack for petty crime and became a first-rate juvenile delinquent, getting into trouble constantly until his brother Pete (pictured below, Pete on the right) encouraged him to straighten up. Pete ran track, and suggested Louis try running, too. Louis surpassed his brother and became a star, breaking records and running for gold in the 1936 Olympics--where he actually met Hitler.
Then World War II broke out, and Louis became a bombardier on a B-24 in the Pacific. His plane was shot down, and he survived with two others on a small rubber raft for 47 days surrounded by hungry sharks. They finally floated ashore, only to be captured by the Japanese and thrown into a hellish POW camp where they were starved and tortured. Knowing who Louis was, the Japanese refused to release Louis' name to the Red Cross, so the military--and his family--never knew he'd survived. After a year, his official status was changed from MIA to KIA. Meanwhile, the lives of the POWs was a living hell. Worse for Louis, the sadistic head of the guards singled him out for particularly brutal treatment. The guard, nicknamed "The Bird" by the prisoners, was bent on breaking Louis' mind and spirit. The torment escalated, and despite being near death, Louis refused to be broken.
For more about Louis Zamperini, read the excellent biography, "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption," by Laura Hillenbrand. For part three of this video, click here. Part four is here.