By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Edward Herrmann
Hillenbrand immortalizes Louis Zamperini’s life in “Unbroken”. She vivifies Zamperini’s life with stories of his early years of running away, hopping trains, practical joking, stealing, and raising hell. Louis idolizes an older brother that lives a more conventional life but Louis refuses to follow the placid image of the good son; the obedient child. Fortunately, Louis is blessed with a tolerant mother and a stern, but understanding, father that accept Louis for himself rather than what they want him to be. Louis does not outgrow his hyperactivity but channels his energy into the discipline of a sport (track and field) and a lust for life. Rescue of Louis Zamperini takes many forms in “Unbroken”.
With that beginning description of Louis Zamperini, Hillenbrand tells the story of Zamperini’s advance as a world class runner; i.e. the youngest member of the “near 4 minute mile club” of the 1936 Olympics. Louis meets Adolph Hitler, not as a winner of the race but as an Olympic competitor that gives all he has to be the best he can be.
The following u-tube interview tells a part of Zamperini’s story in his own words:http://www.youtube.com/embed/I9O5yVzc0vQ” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>
World War II strikes the United States at Pearl Harbor. Louis’s stellar running career is grounded. He returns home to be drafted by the Army/Air Force. He becomes a bombardier. The story of “Unbroken” begins with a rescue mission for a B-24 crew downed in the Pacific Ocean. The rescue crew includes Louis Zamperini. The rescue crew is unsuccessful; i.e. the lost crew is not found. On the return flight, engine trouble forces the rescue plane and its crew into the Ocean.
Three (possibly four, out of 20 plus men) survive the crash. With a poorly provisioned life raft, two live to be placed in a Japanese prison camp, Louis and the rescue plane’s pilot.
This story of survival is inspirational. It can be listened to as a true adventure. One may also hear a cautionary tale about society.
Man’s inhumanity in war is disgorged in detail by Hillenbrand’s report of Zamperini’s incarceration in Japan. It reminds one of every gruesome story written about America’s civil war prisons, German concentration camps, North Korean POW camps, Vietnam POW compounds, and more recently, Abu Ghraib. Despicable treatment of POWs is a chapter in every truthful history of war. Scars caused by that inhuman treatment bleed for the remainder of a POW’s life. Now we have the diagnosis of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) to give some weight to the festering psychological wounds of the POW experience. It is the retelling of stories like Hillenbrand’s report of Zamperini’s experience that crystallize one’s understanding of how insidious and devastating PTSD is to a traumatized victim.
A tangential message in Hillenbrand’s book is that hyperactivity in children is a blessing and curse. A parent that faces life with a hyperactive child may listen to Hillenbrand’s life story of Louis Zamperini and think of what might be if their child’s high energy could be focused rather than blurred by the hurly burly of life. It is difficult to raise children in an affluent society where both parents must work to pay the bills; i.e. one wonders about the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Deficit) disorder. Where does an affluent society draw the line on drug treatment for children with this diagnosis? Is the diagnosis real or is it a symptom of a society that does not have enough time to parent? Louis Zamperini is an inspiration; not because his parents made the right decisions, but because society; i.e. parents, brothers, sisters, teachers, coaches, friends, the military offered Zamperini opportunity to become the best he could be.
In January of this year, Louis Zamperini is 95, going on 96.