Louie Zamperini was a bit of a scoundrel as a kid. An accomplished neighborhood thief, he would “run like mad” while shopkeepers chased after him. His running skills earned him a trip to the 1936 Olympics where he didn’t medal but garnered the attention of Adolf Hitler. Several years later he found himself in the middle of World War II, serving as a bombardier aboard a B-24 bomber. While on a search-and-rescue mission Louie’s plane crashed and only he and 2 other men survived. Sorely deprived of supplies the men subsisted on albatross, small fish and the occasional shark liver, survived strafing by a Japanese plane and quizzed each other to keep their mental faculties.
After 47 days afloat their raft finally brought them to a Japanese-occupied island, and Louie soon missed the raft and sharks that surrounded them. He was held as a POW for 2.5 years, targeted by a sadistic guard for beatings and humiliation that were unbearable. But through all of his experiences, Louie remained unbroken. After his rescue – Zamperini and other POWs firmly believe that the atomic bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved their lives – Louie sank in to a deep depression and alcohol-infused existence. Louie credits the evangelist Billy Graham for turning his life around and has spent the 65+ years since the war’s end — yes, he’s still alive and kicking — working with troubled youths and telling his story.
In Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, Laura Hillenbrand tells Louie’s amazing and at times unbelievable story, mixed in with statistics and facts about the Pacific POWs and Japan’s role in the war. Germany takes the brunt of blame for World War II but Japan’s cultural attitude toward surrender and the associated shame resulted in atrocious conditions and treatment of the POWs. The guards became extremely power-hungry – they starved, beat and humiliated the prisoners just because they could. The prisoners rebelled in their own small ways, maintaining their dignity and will to live, and Hillenbrand tells their stories with respect and admiration. Unbroken is well researched, well written and required reading for anyone with even a mild interest in World War II and its effects on the Greatest Generation, and I’ve added it to our Five Star Reads.
Notes on the audiobook: Unbroken is narrated by Edward Hermann. I have mixed feelings about listening to books read by well-known actors, my initial reaction is always one of excitement of hearing a voice I know, but then it takes some time to separate the picture in my head of a character that actor may have portrayed — such as Rory Gilmore’s grandpa –from the story being told. Hermann reads Unbroken with energy and emotion and quickly put my trepidation to rest, and it wasn’t long before I stopped listening to him and started listening to the story.
Nancy writes about her 2 boys, books and life in Colorado at Life With My Boys and Books.