I just heard the news that Louis Zamperini died. In honor of his life, I thought I might repost something I wrote a few years ago, shortly after his biography, Unbroken, came out.
Louis Zamperini: The Happiest Man I’ve Ever Known
No, I’m not exaggerating. If you were to ask me, “Who is the happiest man you’ve ever known?” I would quite quickly answer, “Louie Zamperini.”
As a boy, I attended the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. Every now and then, Louie, who was part of the church, would speak in my Sunday School classes. He held us spellbound with amazing stories of his life. He had been an Olympic runner and a very promising miler, until he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. Louie served in the Pacific during the war. There, his plane crashed, and he spent 47 days adrift on a tiny raft in shark-infested waters. After washing up on a Pacific island, Louie spent the next two plus years in Japanese prison camps. He didn’t tell us too much about his experiences in these camps, but focused rather on how God had blessed his life. I remember Louie as a joyful, fascinating man. I loved it when he spoke in my Sunday School classes.
In the late 1980s, I served on the staff of Hollywood Pres, and so did Louie Zamperini. He was responsible for a ministry for senior adults. Every time I saw Louie, he was bounding with enthusiasm . . . often, literally bounding. Louie had abundant energy, even for a man in who in his seventies. My favorite memories of Louie during this time of life are watching him skateboard. He loved zipping around the church campus on his skateboard. We often referred to him as a wild man, because he skated with so much utter joy and abandon.
Louie is now the subject of a mind-blowing book. Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, has been a New York Times #1 seller in the months since its release in November. It is a truly compelling, gripping story. If it weren’t verified by many sources, you’d never believe it. What Louie experienced after his plane crashed until he was set free in Japan is beyond comprehension.
Unbroken is wonderfully written and filled with historical and cultural insights. Hillenbrand, who wrote Seabiscuit, is a delightful and careful writer. She tells Louie’s story without flinching, both the good and the bad. And, believe me, there is plenty of bad. What Louie experienced as a POW is horrific. The middle section of Unbroken is not easy reading, but it is well worth the emotional investment.
I am deeply grateful to God for the privilege of having known Louie Zamperini. And I am also grateful for Laura Hillenbrand’s extraordinary book. Unbroken will make you laugh and make you cry. It will take you to the heights and to the depths. Perhaps more importantly, it will help you to cherish your life. I will never be as happy as Louie Zamperini, but his story has helped me to take more delight in life. Thanks Laura. Thanks Louie. And thanks be to God!
P.S. – As you probably know, Unbroken is being made into a movie, directed by Angelina Jolie. It will be released in December. If it is faithful to the book, and to Louie’s life, it will be a gripping film, very hard to watch in parts, but well worth the emotional investment.
Today, I am once again thankful for the life of Louie Zamperini, and for the life beyond this life that he now knows. The happiest man I’ve ever known is even more joyful today, thanks be to God!