There is a movie coming out on Christmas day and I'm recommending that you see it. I've never seen it but have been led to believe it is a faithful presentation of the experiences of Louis Zamperini. If it is, it should be some movie.
Louis was a problem kid, always in trouble. He broke the law frequently and most people who knew him thought he would end up in prison or dead as a result of some crime or another. But Louis had family that believed in him and fate on his side. His brother encouraged him to try running a race, and Louis didn't win that one, but tried again.
Zamperini discovered that he loved running and was good at it. He competed, and won...a lot. At one time, Louis held the world record for the high school mile. The second time Louis ever ran the 5000 meter race he qualified to try out for the 1936 Olympics. He went to New York City where he followed world record holder Don Lash for much of the race. Then Zamp broke loose and pulled up even with Lash. The two ran neck-and-neck down the home stretch to tie in the qualifying race. Zamp was 19 years old.
Louis's youth and inexperience cost him at the Olympics, which were held in Berlin, Germany. He got boxed in and spiked, but broke free and put on an incredible finishing kick that was enough to get him across the line in eighth place. He finished ahead of all other Americans, and caught the attention of Adolph Hitler, who made a point of congratulating, "the boy with the fast finish."
Far from being discouraged, Zamperini set his sights on the 1940 Olympics, which were to be held in Tokyo, Japan. Unfortunately for Louis, Japan and Germany had other plans, and those Olympics were never run due to the beginning of World War II.
Continuing to train, Louis signed up for the Army Air Corps after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor injected the United States into the war. Zamperini joined the Army Air Corps, and saw fierce action. After one fight, Louis and his team were barely able to limp back to base with hundreds of holes in their plane. Their craft disabled, Louis and what was left of his crew were ordered to take another plane on a rescue mission on May 26, 1943.
That plane was in bad shape, having been cannibalized by other crews as it sat on the repair line, and it gave out on them some 200 miles out at sea. They ditched and only Louis, his pilot Russell A. Phillips, and their tailgunner surfaced. Zamp swam to retrieve two life rafts and pulled the other two men into it. When their meager supplies ran out, the men wasted away as they lived on rainwater and fish they were able to catch from time to time, including the hungry sharks that circled continually and even tried to knock them out of the raft. On the 27th day, the men saw an aircraft and signaled it. It turned out to be a Japanese plane, which repeatedly strafed them, puncturing their raft with dozens of holes but miraculously missing all three men. After 33 days at sea the tailgunner died and was pushed overboard. Barely hanging onto life after 47 days in the raft, the two men caught sight of land. They were so weak that they couldn't walk, having lost about 80 pounds each. They had to crawl onto land, where they were rescued, and that's where the worst part of their ordeal began.
They had drifted 2000 miles to the Marshall Islands, which were held by the Japanese. The island they landed on was Kwajalein, known as Execution Island for good reason. The two men were captured and kept as prisoners of war. They were subjected to cruel treatment, kept in cells filled with rats, maggots, and lizards. Their toilet was a hole in the floor and they had to sleep with their heads beside it so that the guards could see them. They were regularly spit on, poked with sticks, and had rocks thrown at them through the door. Their infrequent meals were often just a cup of water and a rice ball thrown into the cell. They were subjected to medical experiments that included being injected with substances that made them very sick. Their only bit of luck was that they were the first POWs kept on Kwajalein who were not beheaded.
In September or 1943 they were moved to Tokyo. Six months later, the two friends were split up and sent to different POW camps. Louis was sent to a camp where he was subjected to the worst treatment of his life by a particular guard who was more sadistic than any Zamperini had seen before. "The Bird" as the prisoners called him, knocked Louis out every day for ten days straight. He forced the weak and emaciated Zamperini to hold a six foot long 4x4 post overhead, under threat of instant death if he dropped it. After nearly an hour, the Bird punched Zamp in the stomach out of frustration that the American refused to give up. Another time, the Bird forced all the other POWs in the camp to punch Louis in the face one after the other, totaling more than 200 times.
After more than two years as a POW, Zamperini and the other prisoners were taken to a river for their first bath and saw why, as an American plane flew over, flashing a Morse code message telling them that the war was over.
Louis struggled after returning to the US. He used alcohol to try to escape the demons, particularly the Bird, who inhabited his dreams. One day Zamp's wife talked him into attending a church service conducted by Billy Graham. The two men met and Graham guided Louis into Christianity and showed him that he could find relief from his demons through forgiveness.
I am reading the book that the movie Unbroken is based on, and have already read the book Louis himself co-wrote many years ago. I don't know what exactly the movie contains, but I know if it contains even a portion of the experience of Louis Zamperini, and does it in a halfway reasonable manner, it will be an incredible movie.
I hope to see you there.