February 15, 2011
Our current war in Afghanistan is now over nine and a half years old...the longest war in American history. Many tales of heroism and sacrifice have come out of our wars, but here is a tale of a man in another war that staggers the mind.
Louis Zamperini was a reformed juvenile delinquent who raced in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He had hoped for gold in the 1940 games, but the war ended those dreams forever. He became an Army Air Corp bombardier in 1941, and two years later in May 1943, his B-24 crashed into the Pacific. He and the pilot spent 47 days adrift on a shark-encircled life raft and were captured by the Japanese. Interred in one of the cruelest Japanese POW camps, Louie became the target of the sadistic Corporal Watanabe who never killed his victims outright - his pleasure came from slow, unending torment. When the camp was liberated, Louis was near death and all he could think of was that he was free.
Laura Hillenbrand, the author, shows that Louie was not yet free as he struggled with trying to forget and his desire for vengeance.
Today, Louis is in his 90's, and what a life he's had! His will to live and his defiant and unbroken spirit are almost unbelievable. In telling his story, Hillenbrand also tells the larger story of the suffering of thousands who are mostly forgotten. As Publisher's Weekly reviewer Sarah F. Gold states in her November 2010 review, "She (Hillendbrand) restores to our collective memory this tale of heroism, cruelty, life, death, joy, suffering, remorselessness, and redemption".