In the current society, we have been accustomed to the fast turnaround in the literary world in regard to wars. Troops are seldom in their barracks and guns not yet cold, before the imminent literature works hit the shelves. Afterwards, the memoirs follow. For the ancient wars, some literary works catch public attention while others are far from their attention. The Napoleonic war and, next came, the World War I have managed to, instinctively, lodge in the sub-conscious minds of individuals. Indeed, that was why I was perturbed when I saw the theme of Laura Hillenbrand book, an epic of fortitude and individual heroism in World War II. The book is documented in an appalling manner, and it was clear why the true significance of the story had to delay for so long before it was finally released.
Childhood Life and Olympics
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Louis Silvie Zamperini childhood life started in Torrance, California. He was born in 1917 by Italian immigrant parents. In his early years, he was characterized by wildness and willful nature; therefore, it was not easy to attribute an activity to him (Hillenbrand, 2010). At the age of 14, his elder brother, Pete, thought of athletics as his main activity. Almost immediately, Zamperini junior recognize his strength in athletics and began to smash collegiate, state events and finally was able to achieve national records in the field of athletics. At the age of 19 years, Louis was able to be selected to the US Olympic team to compete for 5000m race in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. His charismatic and cheerful nature was evident in Berlin as he could not resist from stealing ashtrays from various bars. In the overall standing for the event, he emerged eight and wittingly shook hands with Hitler.
College Life and Pre-war
Zamperini was determined to win gold in the same event, and promised that he will achieve his desire in the 1940 Tokyo Olympics—nobody doubted his expectations. Many experts believed that Louis would be the first athlete to run under the four-minute barrier in 5000m race. However, before Zamperini’s career peaked, there was an outbreak of War. The Olympic Committee cancelled the 1940 Tokyo Olympics, and Louis joined the forces. Louis, being stationed in South Pacific, was able to raid Japanese bases and orchestrated for a thorough search and rescue operation in the region. He continued with his training while undertaking rescue mission with the Air Force. While training in the sand alone in Hawaii, he managed to clock 4:12, which assured him that he can easily run under 4 minutes if he continued training.
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However, his training came to a halt. While he was searching for one of the Air Force plane that had disappeared—in their rescue mission, Louis plane’s engine failed in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The plane crashed, and Louis and two other soldiers miraculously survived the incident as other colleagues died. Using two life saving rafts that were lashed together, the three soldiers were able to survive for weeks on rainwater, fish, and birds, while constantly fighting against the shark attack, and evading sight from Japanese airplane. Unfortunately, one of the crew members succumbed to death due to the harsh conditions they were facing. Louis and Phil—the other survivor—were able to continue drifting for weeks, until they spotted land. Lack was not on their side as a Japanese patrol ship spotted them as they were about to reach the shores (Scearce, 2011).
The Japanese held them captives, and they longed for their raft in the sea; life in the land was unbearable. Indeed, the deprivation and hardships that they suffered in the sea was lesser than the degradation and abuse they were being subjected by the Japanese (Hillenbrand, 2010). The dehumanizing handling of the many Allied prisoners was unbearable in the POW camps of Japanese, which almost made the Nazi’s methodical as Jewish, were systematically murdered—it seemed compassionate when compared. It is normal that a soldier who is going to war has to view an enemy as less of a human; this will make it easier for the soldiers when killing them. In reality, viewing an enemy soldier as less of a human is a lie, however, the Japanese were able to view the Allied troops and Americans in the POW camps as less human—a compelling reason why they hate the Japanese. Louis, in particular, hated the Japanese. The author critically describes the details of the torture that the captives were subjected to by the Japanese at the POW camp—especially the cruelty of “The Bird.” In some instances, Louis was fortunate. His prowess and fame in the field of athletics enabled him to be the keeper; otherwise, he would have been killed by the Japanese. They decided to use Louis as a tool for propaganda, and made him run several races to entertain the Japanese.
Post-war and Forgiveness
After the deprivation in the POW camps that preceded deprivation in the raft, Louis was no longer in his earlier form before the war commenced. Immediately after the war, Louis wanted to continue with his career and aimed at achieving the desired awards and records. His initial training was quite promising, but his career was ruined by an injury. He was depressed and ended up abusing alcohol, thus, making his life devastating (Hillenbrand, 2010). However, before he could fully drown in the pool of despair, his wife hauled him to a tent that was erected in Los Angeles where unknown preacher was holding meetings and restoring faith and hope in life. The name of the preacher was Billy Graham. Louis remembered that he had made a promise to God when he was in the raft. He had promised God that if he rescued him and take him home safely, he would give his life to Him. Louis was saved and had a new purpose of living. He became a traveling evangelist as he knew it was a call from God.
Before being saved, Louis had vowed to plot a revenge on the guard in POW camp; The Bird. The molestation he received was unbearable and claimed that the only way to be contented with the injustices of life was to avenge. Louis wanted to kill him. He was transformed by Jesus, and instead of having a spirit of vengeance, he was filled with a spirit of forgiveness. In what was viewed as a turn of events, Louis moved back to Japan where he preached to the prison warders, and prisoners. He also preached to the guards in POW camp where he was earlier on held. In his lifetime, he had never thought that he could have forgiven these guards who tortured and brutally maimed him at the time he was a prisoner, but Jesus grace was sufficient. Unfortunately, the target man—The Bird—was not there as he had died before Louis could meet him (Hillenbrand, 2010).
Although Hillenbrand did not aim at writing a spiritual biography or evangelistic book, but to make it more fervent, she would have focused more on the miraculous conversion of Zamperini and the forgiveness theme that adequately defined his post-war life. It is quite amusing to determine how she moulds the character to portray the necessary themes in her book. For instance, Louis miraculous survival in the sea, which was against all odds; determination to survive in the Japanese POW camp; his despair in life after getting an injury; and transformation that was characterized by a shift from hateful and vengeful survivor to a forgiving one, proved that God is there to save the lost soul (Scearce, 2011).
In conclusion, the author has advertently shown the theme of survival and resilience in the World War II. Indeed, the analysis of the trauma faced by a character that had much hope and success in his life becomes diminished by the outbreak of war. Louis had no idea that he would, one day, be a travelling evangelist; he knew that he was going to be a renowned athlete. In regard to redemption, God’s hand can be seen in various steps of Zamperini’s life; provided him with guidance, protection, and preparedness for the future life.
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