Captain Nancy Aldrich
I hope that is a name you are familiar with. If not, I hope it is a name you will not soon forget!
Unfortunately, I cannot do justice to Louis Zamperini in this short article, but perhaps I can whet your interest so you will want to learn more about him.
Louie was what a lot of us would call a young punk. He was a rambunctious youngster, always in and out of trouble. Mostly, in. He needed direction in his life, which he got when his older brother took him to a track meet. He fell in love with running. In fact, he loved running so much that in 1934 he set a World Interscholastic Record, running a 4 minute, 21 second mile. His running career took off and he made the 1936 U. S. Olympic Track Team. We all know that Jessie Owens was the track star that year, but Louie was there and made a name for himself.
He wanted to get back to the Olympics in 1940, but World War II intervened and instead, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He was deployed in the Pacific as a bombardier, on B-24s. His crew was sent out on a rescue mission, in April 1942, and never came back. Their plane experienced mechanical problems and crashed in the ocean about 850 miles west of Oahu. Three men survived the crash, Louie, Russel Allen Phillips, and Francis McNamara. McNamara died before they reached land. The other two were on the ocean in a small raftfor 47 days, eating only the fish they could catch.
Upon reaching the Marshall Islands, they were immediately captured by the Japanese. They were held captive until the war ended in 1945. The Japanese recognized the name Zamperini and knew he was a famous athlete. Because of that he was tortured violently and mercilessly. His name was never released to the Red Cross, so his family did not know that he was still alive.
In Laura Hillenbrand’s biography “Unbroken,“ she described the violence and hatred he endured at the hands of his captors. In this short article, I cannot begin to describe what he suffered. I encourage you to get a copy of the book and read it for yourself. It is a book that is hard to read and almost impossible to put down, but a story everyone should know.
At the end of the war, all the prisoners were released. Upon arriving back in the States, Louie became a hero and was feted everywhere he went. Parties, speeches, parades, etc. It all became too much for him and he turned to alcohol. His life was on a downward spiral. In a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder dream, he was trying to kill his primary torturer. When he awoke, he found he was trying to kill his wife!
After that incident, she was able to persuade him to attend a Billy Graham Crusade, where he dedicated his life to the Lord. That ended the drinking and the nightmares. As a born again Christian, he has devoted the rest of his life to encouraging young people to lead Christian lives. One of his favorite subjects is forgiveness. In 1950, he went back to Japan and gave his testimony through an interpreter. The Colonel in charge of the prison encouraged any of the guards present to come forward and meet Louie. He explained to them the Christian Gospel of forgiveness. They were very surprised that he could forgive those who had treat him so badly.
On his 81st birthday, in January of 1998, he ran a leg with the Olympic Torch relay before the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
Louie Zamperini is now 96 years old and is still speaking. He travels around the country telling his story of survival, redemption, and forgiveness. If you get a chance to hear him, don’t miss it! A movie is currently in production, and will be out next year. Make it a point to see the movie. It will inspire you!
Louie Zamperini, a name we should all know and respect!
Captain Nancy Aldrich, aviation writer ©