He died at the age of 97 and will be remembered as much for his brief Olympic career as for his courage in two-plus years of captivity by the Japanese. As a wayward youth from Torrance, California, he discovered his speed by outrunning the police during one or more of his youthful misadventures. Family support motivated him to run track in high school, becoming the first high school athlete to break the four-minute mile, and gaining the attention that would earn him a place on the 1936 American Olympic team; a team that included Jesse Owens. While he finished only in the middle of the pack, he was determined to improve both speed and position in the 1940 Olympics, which were scheduled to be held in Japan, but never happened. While in Berlin, he fell to pattern and climbed a flagpole to get a trophy Swastika flag. Captured by Gestapo he somehow convinced Hitler to deliver it to him the next day.
Louis found himself in Japan and earlier in Japanese-held Marshall Islands when a plane he was in, came apart from its chewing gum and Scotch tape jerry-mongering while on a S&R mission. He, and eventually one other survivor somehow survived 40 days at sea with no provisions, only to land on an island, nicknamed the Island of Death.
His undaunted spirit following the event was captured dramatically in a 2010 book by Laura Hillenbrand, who had written the best seller Seabiscuit. Her book, titled The Unbroken was much more successful than two co-authored by Zamperini and won the best non-fiction award for that year. The book was so well researched and is so graphic that Mary only read the last chapter; which might be called the redemption chapter, where Louis survives what were certainly years of PTSD, found faith in an evangelistic meeting with Billy Graham, and turned his life around for what would culminate in a period of true forgiveness.
He returned to japan carrying one of the six Olympic torches he was honored to carry through the years and literally visited the camp where he had been confined and tortured. His grand nemesis, named The Bird by the prisoners chose not to meet with him, but others in the camp were more gracious.
He could have been forgiven for not being able to get past that chapter of his life: mimicking the old lady who told her pastor she could not forgive her enemies because, “All those bitches are dead.” Instead he is a model of the true spirit of redemption and how God and religion can have a positive effect on our lives and how living them can affect others.
We soon will have a film version of his life, whether inspired by Hillenbrand’s book or by the MSCNN television show, or neither; I am unsure. What is sure is that with Angelina Jolie direction and the Coen Brothers producing, it is certain to be a film with staying power.
My next Post will offer a rare look at my take on what politics has become. Don’t look for an Obama or Tea Party rehash, or even a Bill O’Reilly take. Instead I will concentrate on a Rhode Island politician and why his probabe decision to run for Mayer brings vivid memories to my mind. I hope to see you then.