When his bomber plane was shot down over the ocean during a rescue mission, Louis and two other men survived the crash and began a perilous 47 day journey over 2,000 miles of ocean fighting heat, starvation, dehydration and sharks. Aggressive sharks. On the 47th day, when a Japanese ship came up on their torn raft, only two men remained and thus began over two years in Japanese POW camps. Two years of torture that one only reads about, much less survives. Beating after beating…illness, wretched living conditions and near starvation…it is incredible what Louis endured. It is amazing to read about what all of the POW’s had to experience. So many lives lost. So much torture, sadness and pain. Completely unnecessary torture.
Before this, the only material I had read on WWII were novels (a lot of times with happy endings) or non-fiction books based around Germany. I had no idea how vicious the Japanese were during the war, taking the souls of more soldiers than any other country. Sadists to the extreme—beating, humiliating and demoralizing their captives. My heart broke reading this—even though it happened over half a century ago.
After the war, nightmares and alcoholism consumed Louis. Post-traumatic stress and the memories of one captor in particular (“The Bird”) kept Louis from being happy until he discovered faith through evangelical speaker, Billy Graham. I am so grateful that he found happiness…something that alluded so many other survivors that could not deal with their demons.
Louie’s family went years assuming he was dead, although remaining hopeful that a miracle would happen. I can just imagine the families of countless soldiers who prayed day in and day out that the same miracle would happen for them. It never did. The Zamperini’s were lucky. They endured years with torment of the unknown, but in the end, they were all together. Moving forward as a whole.
Ironically, Louie ended up outliving them all—he is still alive today. Louis Zamperini is the ultimate survivor.