A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption
By Laura Hillenbrand
Right from childhood, Louis Zamperini proved to be a high-spirited, vibrant force to be reckoned with. His brother Pete introduced him to track and he vigorously started training, discovering he was an extremely talented runner. Louis began breaking records and quickly made his way to Olympic tryouts and races. He was on his way to breaking the record of a four-minute mile when he was enlisted and sent off to fight in WWII.
“Confident that he was clever, resourceful, and bold enough to escape any predicament, he was almost incapable of discouragement. When history carried him into war, this resilient optimism would define him.” Louis proved to be just as determined in the war as he was on the racetrack. He quickly made good friends and did his part, even volunteering to board an unsafe plane to join a rescue crew to find his fellow soldiers, lost at sea.
It was on the fateful Green Hornet that Louis and his crew went down; only he and two other men, Phil and Mac, survived the crash. On their little inflatable raft at sea, the men slowly lost hope as the days ticked by and they were not rescued. They lost strength as their only water to drink was sporadic rainstorm water. They managed to live off of random birds that made their way onto the raft. The men were forced to drink the birds’ blood, used them as bait to attempt to catch fish that they ate raw, and kept sharks at bay that constantly would swim around and brush up against the raft. Louis and Phil survived a staggering 47 days on that raft before they were “rescued” by the Japanese.
The two men were taken to the infamous “Execution Island” where they were starved, beaten, and pumped for secret information regarding the Allies. Throughout the years, they were shipped around from prison camp to prison camp, forced to do hard labor and live off of a rice ball per day, all the awhile being abused, degraded, and treated like worthless animals. It is then that Louis meets the man who would do everything in his power to destroy him; “The Bird.” However, Louis never let him break him: “All I had,” Louis would say, “I gave it.”
Somehow the men make it out of the prison camps alive—the war is over and all the prisoners are rescued who have not already been executed, starved to death, or perished from disease.
Upon Louis’ arrival home, he is ecstatic to see his friends and family, however, he experiences horrible flashbacks and “The Bird” haunts him in his nightmares. Louis can barely cope with his alcoholism and must find a way to heal and forgive for the terrible things done to him that no man should ever experience.
Laura Hillenbrand’s story-telling is phenomenal; she beautifully relays people’s stories onto page. Unbroken truly is a story of survival, resilience, and redemption. The things that Louis Zamperini and countless other war veterans and prisoners had to experience are things of nightmares. To think they triumphed and could one day forgive the men that held them captive and abused and tortured them for years is just mind-blowing.
This was a very emotional read for me. It was very informational, very interesting, but I did not look forward to reading it because of the subject matter. Even though I did not necessarily enjoy reading Unbroken, I am so glad that I did. This incredible story of one man’s journey through hell and back is too important to not read. I really believe that everyone should read this book; everyone should get to know Louis Zamperini, to cherish his fight and his forgiveness. My words truly do not do this story justice.