Thursday, August 25, 2016

"Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand - The Riveting Story of Louis Zamperini,a WWII Survivor

Laura Hillenbrand follows her spectacular biography of race horse Seabiscuit with the gripping tale of Louis Zamperini's life and tribulations as a downed airman in WWII.  "Unbroken" is written in Hillenbrand's inimitable style, blending global events with personal anecdotes from the lives of Lt. Zamperini and his family and fellow airmen.

Prior to the war, Zamperini had overcome serious obstacles to become one of the best milers in track and field history, competing in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin with Jesse Owens and other famous American Olympians. As America entered WWII he became a bombardier flying B-24s in the Pacific Theater.  When his plane ditched in a remote part of the Pacific, Louie and two colleagues survived the crash, and drifted thousands of miles for more than 47 days before being picked up by a Japanese ship.  During those weeks they endured unthinkable hardships: one of their companions died aboard the life raft, they were repeatedly attacked by sharks, and strafed by Japanese planes.

After Louis and his pilot, Russell Allen Phillips were "rescued," an even more harrowing journey began, as both men were incarcerated in a series of brutal Japanese POW camps.  The vivid descriptions of camp conditions and the inhuman brutality of many of the prison guards are gut wrenching.  The depth of depravity that Louie and his fellow prisoners had to endure is unimaginable, and the fact that he survived to live a  productive life is a testament to his incredibly resilient and unbreakable will and spirit.

The author does not shrink from telling about Louie's post-war troubles with alcohol, rage and PTSD. The account of Zamperini's reluctant encounter with evangelist Billy Graham,is touching and instructive, for it proved to be the event that allowed Loutie to finally come to peace with his hatred of the worst of the Japanese guards, Mutsuhiro Watanabe, "The Bird,"  Louie was finally free of the haunting nightmares and his need to seek revenge.

As I was reading this book, one of my close friends saw the book in my hand and said: "This book changed my life!"  The story of Louie Zamperini and his trials and tribulations is that inspiring.



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