I used to didn’t know squat about prisoners of war.
Of course, I’d heard the term.
My brother was among the thousands of Americans who wore a P.O.W. bracelet honoring those captured during the Vietnam War. And I’ve always heard my wife speak of an uncle scarred by his time as a P.O.W during World War II.
But until I picked up the book, Unbroken, two weeks ago, I really hadn’t given these traumatized souls much thought.
For that, I am ashamed.
Penned by Laura Hillenbrand, who also wrote Seabiscuit, Unbroken details how a brash and mischievous teenager finds his stride through running. And I mean running fast.
Zamperini competed in the 5,000 meters in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, catching the eye of Hitler, who demanded to see the 19-year-old phenom and shake his hand. Unfortunately, World War II interrupts the Californian’s ascension to athletics superstardom.
The book details Zamperini’s enlistment, his deployment to the Pacific and the bombardier’s crash into the ocean in 1943. He and a buddy — one man ultimately perished — survived six weeks on a raft, catching rain in their mouths and eating birds and fish, all the while keeping circling sharks at bay.
But that’s still not the meat of this tale.
After drifting more than 2,000 miles, Zamperini is captured by the Japanese and placed in a POW camp. There, he is placed under the hand of the sadistic Mutsuhiro Watanabe, also known as The Bird.
Day after day, Zamperini is punched, clubbed and demoralized by an enemy intent on breaking him.
He never does.
When I turned the final page, I rushed online to learn more Louie. I nearly broke into tears when I saw a video of the man Hillenbrand described in such exquisite detail.
Conqueror of hopelessness, torture and the personal demons brought by war, Zamperini was still going strong.
At age 97.
Long live Louie Zamperini.