Only a champion at heart could endure and survive the repeated ordeals detailed by Laura Hilllenbrand in such a painful and poignant narrative. It’s an incredible tale that can’t help but make you wonder how our soldiers manage to return to a country that can barely fathom their ordeals.
In Unbroken, we marvel at the commitment of Louie Zamperini, a native of Torrance California who ran the 5,000 meters at the 1936 Olympics where, after the race, he had the plunk to ask Joseph Goebbels to take Adolph Hitler’s picture which led to a fleeting introduction to the Fuehrer.
When the 1940 Olympics was cancelled as a result of Hitler’s blitzkrieg, Louis joined the Army Air Corp. Trained as a bombardier, he flew aboard a B-24 named Super Man which, torn up by flak and Japanese Zeroes on a raid over Nauru, barely managed to return to safe harbor. Not long afterwards, Zamperini “volunteered” for a rescue mission aboard a “flying coffin” named the Green Hornet. The Green Hornet malfunctioned over the Pacific and dropped into the ocean. Louie survived, along with the pilot, Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips, and Francis “Mac” McNamara. Together the three airmen floated in a raft for forty-seven days, surviving on shark meat and raw albatross, only to drift into the clutches of a Japanese naval vessel.
Things turn from horrific to torturous. Louie spent the remainder of the war in various Japanese POW camps where he was singled out for vicious assaults and barbaric deprivations. He survived but it is difficult to imagine how he summoned the will and courage to do so. Ironically, one of his interrogators was a Japanese émigré he had known while going to school at the University of Southern California. Louie Zamperini came back from the war but his life after captivity wasn’t exactly easy; yet, he continued to persevere. As he summed up his efforts on an earlier occasion when he was still keen on becoming a champion runner, “All I had,” he said, “I gave it.”