Friday Favorites 7/4/2014
Yesterday, I noticed a headline on Yahoo Sports – War Hero, Olympian Zamperini, Dies at 97. I would guess that it’s a good chance that you don’t know of Zamperini … unless you are serious student of Olympic history or a fan of author, Laura Hillenbrand. Louis Zamperini was a world class distance runner who outgrew a rebellious childhood through running, first at Torrance High then on the track team at the University of Southern California. He ran the 5,000 meters for the U.S. in the 1936 Olympics where he earned some fame not for winning but for stealing Hitler’s personal Nazi flag. In 1944, as a lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, his Liberator bomber went down at sea with only three survivors. One died at sea, while Zamperini and another man, Russell Phillips, survived 47 days before coming ashore on the Marshall Islands, where they were captured by Japanese forces. He was brutally tortured for two years until the end of the war and returned home struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and alcoholism. After attending a rally by Billy Graham, he became a born-again Christian and inspirational speaker, often focusing on the importance of forgiveness. He was to be the grand marshal of the 2015 Rose Parade in keeping with this year’s theme, Inspiring Stories.
Zamperini’s life was the subject of Laura Hillenbrand’s meticulously researched and harrowingly beautiful book, Unbroken – A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Just as she had with her first book, Seabiscuit, Hillenbrand managed to incorporate such detail in her telling of Zamperini’s story that it is hard to believe she wasn’t there by his side through his ordeal, yet the story never bogs down into historical documentary. A huge fan of her work, I had always assumed that she’d only published two books in nine years because of the quality of her research. However, in reading some background on Zamerini, I discovered a moving 2010 article in theWashington Post titled Laura Hillebrand releases new book while fighting chronic fatigue syndrome. The effects of this illness are so severe that she rarely leaves her home in Glover Park, Washington DC. Most of her interviews are conducted by phone and often leave her too tired to do anything else for the rest of the day, including get out of bed and shower. After the success of Seabicuit, she didn’t leave her house for two years. Yet, she did the research and wrote Unbroken, becoming an in absentia granddaughter to Zamperini and an inspiration to CFS patients in the process. When Zamperini learned of Hillenbrand’s illness, he sent her one of his Purple Hearts from the war. Of Zamperini, Hillenbrand said, His story is a lesson in the potential that lies within all of us to summon strength amid suffering, love in the face of cruelty, joy from sorrow.
Unbroken is being made into a movie directed by Angelina Jolie. Just as he did with Hillenbrand during the writing of the book, Zamperini became close friends with Jolie during the making of the film. Of his passing, Jolie said, It is a loss impossible to describe. We are all so grateful for how enriched our lives are for having known him. We will miss him terribly. I hope Jolie’s love of Unbroken and Zamperini produce a wonderful film. Hillenbrand and Zamperini deserve it. Do yourself a favor. Go read the Washington Post article about Hillenbrand here. Then pick up a copy of Unbroken. If you finish it this week it can be your Friday Favorite for next week.
Happy Fourth of July and have a great weekend.