Lloyd Waters: 'Unbroken,' a journey to faith

September 09, 2012|By LLOYD WATERS

“Such is the human race. Often it does seem such a pity that Noah and his party did not miss the boat.”

Mark Twain’s observation above depicts his dim view of the human race.

Finding something noble within the human spirit can sometimes be a chore.

However, I want to share a book with you that has a hero that we all can be most proud. The book is called “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption” by Laura Hillenbrand.

It is a riveting book about the life of one Louis Zamperini.

Louis Zamperini, as a young lad, was headed down the wrong road of life. He was into a lot of mischief as a teenager and absent the encouragement of an older brother might have ended up in jail.

Instead, he made his way to college and became a track star and was on the verge of breaking the first sub 4-minute mile. He even made his way to the 1936 Olympics and ran a 5,000 meter race.

At that Olympics, Zamperini also had a brief encounter with Adolf Hitler and later stole a Nazi flag from a storefront.

Before he could get back to the Olympic Games in 1940, World War II broke out in Europe and he ended up enlisting in the Army Air Corps as a bombardier on a B-24.

While his B-24 plane was on a mission searching for a downed aircraft over the Pacific, his plane experienced mechanical failure and the 26-year-old Zamperini and his crew crashed into the ocean.

All aboard the plane were killed except for Zamperini, his pilot Russell Phillips and Tailgunner Francis McNamara.

Two survival rafts were salvaged from the wreckage and the three set out across the Pacific in search of land with few rations and little water.

They floated for an unbelieveable seven weeks and covered some 2,000 miles before sighting land. Hillenbrand goes into great descriptive detail about the men’s ordeal and survival filled with hunger, thirst, pain, heat and other elements.

McNamara would die at sea on the 33rd day.

As Zamperini and his surviving pilot arrived on the Marshall Islands, it was soon discovered that the islands were controlled by the Japanese. Zamperini and Phillips then became prisoners of war.

While held in captivity for over two years, Zamperini experienced some of the harshest punishment known. He was  beaten and tormented often by one prison guard by the name of Mutsuhiro Watanabe, who was also known around the prison camp as the Bird.

Watanabe was most sadistic and took great delight in delivering his beatings to Zamperini and the other prisoners. Many prisoners would die at these camps.

Because of this country’s bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Zamperini and Phillips would survive their captivity.

Zamperini’s family for the longest time had thought he had been killed in the war. When it was discovered that he was alive, they begin to hope and pray for his return back home to Torrance, Calif.

Zamperini, in fact, would make it back home where he would marry Cynthia Applewhite and they would have two children.

Because of his horrific war ordeals, Zamperini turned to alcohol for some escape. No matter how hard he tried to rid himself of the nightmares, and POW abuses, he couldn’t do it. The alcohol use was destroying his life.

Then one day, his wife took him to a tent revival meeting to hear a young preacher by the name of Billy Graham who delivered a message that forever changed Zamperini’s life.

He gave up alcohol and became a different man. Afterwards he even wrote a letter of forgiveness to the sadistic prison guard.

Mark Twain’s dismal opinion of mankind is often supported by the observed violent behavior of human beings. Maybe Zamperini’s example of faith offers to us a glimmer of hope for something much better.

Lloyd “Pete” Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes columns for The Herald-Mail.

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