Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, tells the journey of how Louie Zamperini went from an Olympian, to a military airman, to a castaway, and at last to a captive of numerous Japanese camps for prisoners of war (POWs). He was born January 26, 1917 in Torrance, California, and as a child he was a handful. He was a thief, a delinquent, and a hothead who cared about no one and nothing but himself. He took up drinking and smoking at a young age, and would constantly get into fights and steal when he could. His method for when he got into trouble was to simply "run like mad," which came in handy. He had a reputation like no other in his hometown, and it would have stayed like that if not for his brother Pete. Louie was a great runner, and Pete took notice of it. He figured that if Louie joined a sport, such as running, it might cause him to turn his life around. And that it did. Louie picked up running, quit drinking and smoking, and quit causing trouble. Also, since Pete was a runner himself, he was Louie's personal trainer. Louie trained hard and became so good that he swept his competitions in high school, never losing a race in his high school career, and could run around a 4 minute mile. He got a scholarship to USC, and also earned the nickname "The Torrance Tornado." In 1936, he also attended the Olympics, which were held in Germany. Disappointed in his performance however (only placing 7th in the 5,000 meter run), he would train even harder to achieve his dream; to win gold in the next Olympics in 1940 which would be located in Tokyo, Japan. His dream was cut short however when the 1940 Olympics were cancelled due to the outbreak of World War II. And when the draft system came around, instead of waiting to be drafted, Louie joined the Army Air Corps as a bombardier, because those who enlisted before being drafted could choose their branch of service. Louie then graduated from flight school in 1942 as an officer, and shortly after he was sent to Ephrata, Washington for his last round of training. When he was finally sent into battle, he and his crew were used for bombing missions. One of his most famed missions was a strike on the Japanese island of Nauru. Throughout the mission, his crew came across gunfire from Japanese fighter planes. With much difficulty, they eventually took out the planes, and even though their plane had no brakes left, and no landing gear (due to damages by enemy fire), and also a total of 594 holes in it from the enemy fire, they still managed to land the plane, and make it back somewhat safely. Some members of the crew were injured, and another was killed in the combat. This would be the first image to haunt Louie Zamperini, which was the face of his fallen comrade. Louie went on several other missions, but on one particular voyage, one of their engines died, and then another right after. This particular plane had four engines, but if two were lost it was said you were a goner. The plane began to plummet into the ocean and Louie's crew was helpless to stop it. In the end, the only survivors of their crew were Louie, the pilot Allen Phillips (known as "Phil"), and the tail gunner Francis “Mac” McNamara. Before he got in the raft however, Louie was tangled in some wires from the plane, and was being dragged under the water. He was for sure he was a goner, and he eventually passed out. When he awoke however, he was still underwater, but the wires were gone and there was nothing pulling him down. He had no idea how it happened, but he had been saved by someone or something. But now, they were castaways with little food, little water, and little idea of where they were. Pretty soon they ran out of the emergency food and water in the life rafts that were inflated from the plane, and had to rely on rain water, and meat from seabirds that perched themselves on their rafts. But it was not enough. Facing starvation and dehydration, not to mention the intense heat and sun rays, they found it difficult to press on. Not to mention the fact that they also had to be wary of/fend off sharks, and deal with dangerous storms. One day, however, they saw a plane pass overhead and fired a flare signaling it to help them. But when the plane came towards them, they did not take notice of the fact that it was a Japanese bomber. The bomber immediately began shooting at them, and they toppled into the water for cover. The bomber circled around several more times, and each time  shot at them. The only things hit were the rafts, until it finally gave up and flew off. Now, the men had a whole new problem. The holes severely deflated the rafts, and they began to sink more into the water, making it even more dangerous due to the sharks. Luckily, there were patches in the side pockets to fix the holes, but the downside was that they had to fix them while fending off sharks which took the opportunity to strike. Using the paddles from the raft, they could hold off the sharks long enough to fix the rafts. Eventually, the holes were patched up and they could somewhat relax once again. Sadly, the men were getting thinner due to little food, and weaker in every way. Nevertheless, they tried to stay sane. Louie asked questions to keep their minds somewhat intact, such as their future plans, and their life before the war, and it helped for Louie and Phil, but Mac was gone. He was always silent, and expressionless, and one night when the others were asleep, he ate what little food they had out of pure desperation. Toward the end of his life however, he made up for it and saved Louie from being bitten by a great white shark. If not for Mac, Louie might have died right there. Sadly, Mac died at sea due to exhaustion, hunger, and dehydration. He survived for 33 days at sea, and Phil and Louie gave him their own ceremony, and then continued to push forward. On the 47th day at sea (a worldwide record for days lost at sea), they saw something they thought they would not live to see again. It was land. They were fearful though, as they assumed it was a Japanese island, which it was. As they were rowing themselves ashore, they were spotted by a Japanese boat, and both of them went aboard. They were treated quite well on this boat, and on that island. They were given food, a chance to bathe, and were taken to the infirmary to have their wounds and injuries cleaned up and looked at. It was not until they were taken to their first camp that things changed for the worse. In these camps, they were given little food, not much water, and were forced to work. Officers, like Louie, were not forced to work however. But because they did not work, their rations of food and drink were cut in half, and everyone gradually got significantly weaker and thinner. The POWs were tormented by the Japanese guards. They were beaten, mocked, and screamed at. They recognized Louie as the Olympian from 1936 in some of the camps, and sometimes made him run against the guards in the camps. Louie, much weaker and thinner now, lost every time except once, which was his last race against the guards. Louie experienced many harsh things in the camp and in his life, but the worst thing he ever encountered was this one guard named Mutsuhiro Watanabe, also known as the Bird to the POWs. The Bird would torment Louie by beating him every day, often to unconsciousness. No matter how hard Louie tried to avoid him, he was always spotted and beaten, whether with the Bird's fists, the metal end of his belt, or a wooden club. Eventually, the Bird left Louie's camp when he was set to become a sergeant. Louie thought he could relax again then, and, for the most part, did until he was sent to another camp. Here, he once again encountered the Bird. He had been sent to the same camp in which Watanabe had been stationed. Once again, he was beaten and humiliated by him. And it became so bad to the point that Louie's dreams were haunted by images of the Bird beating him, and then Louie taking a stand and attempting to strangle him, but to no avail. This would affect him long after the end of the war, causing him to build rage and hatred. Luckily for him however, by that time the end of the war was coming, which sadly made the Japanese guards become more hostile. They knew they would be defeated towards the end, which is why they had set a date to eliminate all the POWs in the specific camps. Luckily, Louie was saved by the fact that his camp had been liberated several days before their date for death, which was scheduled August 22. When the Americans came and liberated the camp, Louie and the rest were ecstatic. They were given food and supplies, and finally after years of being in camps, he would be free. When he finally got back home to his family, he was somewhat the same, but the war changed him, as it did for almost every soldier and POW. After he was back at home, people everywhere wanted to hear his story, and every time he told it he got nervous and uncomfortable with reliving it each time. He found that alcohol helped him relax and he took to alcoholism to cope with the grief and PTSD. Also, the Bird still haunted his dreams, and he could not take it. He even tried to take up running to deal with the stress and pain, but it did not help. Louie had suffered an ankle injury while in the camp, and while running one day he hurt it even worse. The doctor said he would probably never run again, which caused him even more grief and depression. Eventually, however, he fell in love and got married to a woman named Cynthia Applewhite. She was beautiful, rich smart, and she and Louie immediately took a liking to each other. They wound up getting married, but Louie was still traumatized. He drank more and more, sometimes until he passed out, and got more distant with his wife after awhile. He figu3red that the only way for his life to go back to normal was to kill the man who had taken everything away from him. He planned to travel back to Japan and kill the Bird, but what he did not know was that Mutsuhiro Watanabe was already dead. He fled before he could be caught for his war crimes, and was being hunted down. But he could not take it. He was paranoid, and because of his anxiety of being caught he killed himself. But Louie did not go to Japan anyway due to the fact that he was broke, so instead he continued to drink, and feel his rage grow inside him, boiling to the breaking point. Cynthia had been trying to get him to stop, but to no avail. Not even the fact that she was pregnant and he would be a father was enough to get him to snap out of it. They fought often, and she became so fed up with him, his drinking, and his rage that she wanted a divorce from him. Louie Zamperini's life was falling apart, until the day that Billy Graham came to town. He was a Christian speaker who brought a religious revival to Los Angeles (where Louie and Cynthia were living). Since the war ended, Louie wanted nothing to do with God, for similar reasons that victims of the Holocaust lost faith. But one day, Cynthia had met with Graham and had a religious awakening. She decided that she would not divorce Louie. She persuaded Louie to go and listen to Graham speak, and even though he did not want to, she had worn him down, and he went to hear his sermon. When he went, he was a changed man. It started with the question, "Why is God silent when good men suffer?" Louie immediately listened to this, and as he listened, he recalled moments that occurred during the war that he now realized could have been only the work of God. When he was trapped in the wires while sinking down below, and then the wires were suddenly not there and he was free, he realized it must have been God. Or when he, Mac, and Phil had not been shot in the rafts by the Japanese bomber, even though there were holes all in the raft. He finally realized that those were some of God's miracles, and then at last he remembered something he promised while on that raft. He said "If you'll save me [God], I'll serve you forever." Louie was instantly a changed man. He and Cynthia went home after the sermon, and Louie dumped all his alcohol down the drain immediately. He was no longer haunted by his past or in his dreams, no longer needed alcohol to cope, and he was truly free. He did not want to murder the Bird anymore, and did not feel the rage he did before. He became a Christian speaker and began to tell his story all over America. He and Cynthia had a renewed and deepened connection now, and were blissful together. Also, when he was older, his ankle had healed very nicely, and due to his patience he could run again. He was in his sixties and was still running a mile in under six minutes, and in his seventies he picked up skateboarding. He lived every day with passion and excitement, up until his death in 2014. He was a man like no other, and that is how he will always be remembered. As an Olympian, as a WWII hero, and as a man who never gave up, even in his darkest hour.

A Story of Perseverance

I believe the central idea of this survival story is perseverance. No matter what Louie came across he always pushed forward and did what he had to in order to survive. He always gave everything he could to do what he needed to, in terms of running, being in war, and surviving in the prison camps. One quote that especially stood out, and represents this idea is when Louie says, “His conviction that everything happened for a reason, and would come to good, gave him laughing equanimity even in hard times.” This is how he kept his spirits up. That no matter what happened, everything would happen for a reason and somehow, no matter how bad it seemed, would lead to goodness. Another moment that defines this is when Louie remembers something that Pete says while running in the Olympics. Pete had told him once, “A lifetime of glory is worth a moment of pain. Louie thought: Let go” (Hillenbrand 36). Even though he was tired and spent during that race, he kept going. He never gave up and never stopped. Even when Louie was being beaten by the Bird, or being humiliated by him, he did not lose hope, or quit. One thought was always in his brain, which was that he would not be broken. This is seen when it says, “He [Louie] began to feel confused, the camp swimming around him. All he knew was a single thought: He cannot break me" (Hillenbrand 213). No matter what happened, he would not break. He would not fall. And that is why I believe the title Unbroken is perfectly chosen for this book. And in the end, it paid off. All his hard work, perseverance, and bravery had shaped him to what he is known as today. There is one last moment (among countless others) which is after Louie goes to hear Billy Graham. This is when he truly looks at himself as a free man. The war, the Bird, his rage and anger, all those things were gone from his life now. And it is seen when it says, “At that moment, something shifted sweetly inside him. It was forgiveness, beautiful and effortless and complete. For Louie Zamperini, the war was over" (Hillenbrand 273). He had fought through it all, and finally he was free. After all his pain and sorrow, he had remained an unbroken man.

The importance of this video is that it explains how Louie Zamperini was able to forgive those who had made his life a living hell. How he was able to get his life back, and break free from the haunting images, nightmares, and stress he had felt after the war.

This song is great for this book. This is because it is about a struggle between not only two nations, but it can expand to struggles between two individuals, or also a person's struggles against themselves and their circumstances. And how even though things are tough, the "burning heart" and that "unmistakable fire" will keep you going. It will motivate you. Drive you. And in the end, you will have your victory.

This picture shows the size of the rafts that Louis, Mac, and Phil had to use when they were lost at sea, and how incredible it is that Louis and Phil could survive for all 47 days that they were lost at sea.

This shows the size of one of the 594 bullet holes in the plane known as Superman to Louie's crew. It is astounding that only one person died from the artillery fire, and others were only injured.

This shows Louie about to start one of his favorite past times, running. Running was what helped him turn his life around, and change from a delinquent to a an amazing athlete.

Here, Louie is in his 70s, still living each day to the fullest while taking part in a new hobby of his, skateboarding.

This picture shows the condition of the POWs in the Japanese prison camps. The fact that Louie Zamperini survived in these conditions, as well as all the survivors of these camps, is miraculous.

Comment Stream