Sunday, February 18, 2018


World War II has always fascinated me.  This is likely related to two things.  One is familial involvement.  One grandpa was a soldier in the war.  The other set of grandparents were children in Germany.  The other thing is that I loved drawing aircraft as a kid, and the bombers of World War II figured prominently in my usual repertoire.  What I didn’t necessarily understand as a kid is the large part that prison camps played in the war.  From the little reading that I have done and the little that I know, there are atrocious things that happened in the war’s prison camps, but I have heard more than a few stories of people rising above the horror and rising above the temptation to give up or to forever hate those who have treated them so evilly.  These stories are an interesting and often inspiring piece of history.

Book cover.Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand (ISBN: 978-0-679-60375-7) is just such a story about overcoming trials.  Like so many stories of resilience in the face of overwhelming odds, the story starts with humble origins.  Louis Zamperini was the son of Italian immigrants struggling to make ends meet along with most other Depression-era Americans.  A caring older brother discovered the track and invited Louie along, later serving as an unofficial coach, and Louie became as star, eventually qualifying for the Olympics, running a race (5,000 meters) he didn’t usually do.  He competed admirably in Berlin, finishing eighth against some of the world’s greatest runners.  His running career, though, was cut short by the onset of war, and he served as a bombardier.  That, too, was cut short because his plane went down during a rescue mission, and he was captured by the Japanese after some time floating in a raft at sea.  Floating around for weeks was already an amazing act of survival and resilience, but the worst was yet to come.  Zamperini then spent more than two years in various Japanese prison camps undergoing brutal treatment.  He and others kept their wits about them by resolving to beat the system and not give in to their captors and abusers.  Some made it, some did not.  There were some funny stories along the way, but most of it was monotony, drudgery, and pain.  Eventually, Zamperini and the others that survived were done with the horrors of the camps because the war ended.  Unfortunately, for many, that was not the concrete ending they would’ve preferred.  The horrors lived on in many of the former POWs’ minds, causing more than one to turn to alcohol, destructive behaviors, and even suicide to end the pain.  Zamperini’s story included a lot of post-war alcoholism, but he eventually quit that thanks to a conversion to evangelical Christianity, in part because of him remembering some promises he made to God while floating aimlessly on the Pacific Ocean in the first few days after his plane went down.  Zamperini used this redeeming experience in his life to later inspire and help others as well as come to terms with and even forgive his war-time tormentors.

I thought the book was good.  It was an inspiring story and it included some interesting information on the war.  It is best classified as a biography of Zamperini, not a history book.  There are many aspects of the book that were worth remembering, including the hard work and dedication the subject put into his running, his service in the military, and then his life after the war.  There were so many times he could’ve given up and probably justifiably so, but he didn’t.  He used the overwhelmingly negative experiences to make himself better, which is something worth emulation.  As noted above, this was a trait that was fairly common in his generation and one that is definitely missing in many today.  I was intrigued to read that faith and religion played such a large role in his post-war healing.  Such an aspect to story was not surprising, though, since a trust in the atonement of Christ is the surest way to redemption.  Finally, I would be lying if I didn’t note that I liked the stories about the running, which included some thoughts about Zamperini being one of the contenders for breaking the 4-minute mile barrier, and the Olympics in pre-war Germany, which are a subject of interest in and of themselves.

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This work, including all text, photographs, and other original work, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives 3.0 License and is copyrighted © MMXIV John Pruess.

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