Tuesday, June 28, 2011


How much can a person endure physically, emotionally, and spiritually without being broken?  Perhaps the answer can be found in Laura Hillenbrand’s book Unbroken:  A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.  This is the story of Louis Zamperini, a delinquent who grew up to be a gifted Olympic runner, Army Air Force bombardier, Japanese prisoner of war, and a broken man seeking redemption.

Hillenbrand tells Zamperini’s story in remarkable and sometimes excruciatingly painful detail.  Having found his purpose in life through running, Zamperini entered the Army Air Force when the war began, survived 47 days on a raft in the Pacific with his friend and pilot Russel Phillips, was captured by the Japanese, and spent over two years in harsh captivity.  After the war, he tried to compete again, but his body could no longer respond as he wanted.  He sank into despondency and alcoholism brought on by post traumatic stress disorder. 

Thanks to the support of his wife and a life-changing experience during the 1949 Billy Graham
Crusade in Los Angeles, he overcame his emotional challenges and turned his life around, becoming a motivational speaker, Christian worker, and youth leader.  A leading theme of his life has been forgiveness including forgiveness for those who abused him during his years of captivity.  He traveled to Japan on more than one occasion to share his faith with former prison camp guards.

Hillenbrand not only tells Zamperini’s story but that of his fellow captives, several of the prison guards, and the airman’s primary tormentor-- Matsuhiro Watanabe.  Watanabe, a Japanese sergeant, was classified as a war criminal but evaded capture until the political climate changed during the Cold War.  Unrepentant, he was never prosecuted for his crimes and died in 2003 after Zamperini had made numerous attempts to meet him personally to share his faith and forgiveness with his old nemesis. 

In telling the inspiring and moving story of a man who found faith and overcame his demons, Unbroken reminds us of the resilient nature of the human spirit and the potential for redemption.  Little wonder that it has been number one on the New York Times bestseller list and continues at fourth place.   Time magazine named it the book of the year for 2010.   At age 94, Zamperini continues to lead an active life and testify to his faith.

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