(…continued) Louie joined the Air Force and was put on the crew of a B-24 bomber in the Pacific. In a couple very dangerous, and very successful missions, he became a decorated war hero. Then his plane went down in the ocean. Of nine crew members, only Louie and two others survived. Rescue flights did not find them, and they were adrift on the ocean for 47 days, surviving on rainwater, and the occasional seagull that might land on their head (if they were quick enough to grab it). One of the three men died, and the other two were near death when they were finally found—by the Japanese. That was when their real troubles began.
Louie was a prisoner of war for over two years. Japanese POW camps were well known for their harsh conditions and cruelty, and Louie was in the worst of the worst. The most wicked guard, who they nicknamed ‘the Bird,’ had it in for Louie because of his Olympic fame. ‘The Bird’s’ cruelty was beyond the beyond, even for those used to hearing about these things. The hunger, disease, torture, forced labor, and beatings were relentless. When the war was over, the many charges against ‘the Bird’ made him #7 on the list of wanted war criminals. But even ‘the Bird’ was not able to break Louie’s spirit. By the end of the war, he was again near death, but his spirit was, as the book and movie title says, ‘unbroken.’
Mutsuhiro Watanabe, ‘The Bird’
In September of 1945 Louie’s camp was liberated. He and the other prisoners received food, clean water, and medical care. After he was nursed back to health, Louie returned home a hero, was reunited with his family, and began an ongoing round of invitations, speaking engagements, parties, eating, and drinking— lots of drinking. After three years away at war, he was now having the time of his life. All that suffering was behind him, and his many experiences and outgoing personality made him the life of every party. During this time, he met the love of his life and was married. Everything was going great.
Then Louie had one terrible flashback. Everything came flooding back in upon him, and from then on, it would not let him go. He was overwhelmed by sadness over the loss of so many friends, enraged at the unnecessary cruelty he had to endure, and filled with an all-consuming desire for revenge. ‘The Bird’ had never been apprehended, and all Louie wanted to do was go to Japan, find him, and kill him. His partying had turned into alcoholism; and once the initial attention wore off, he was unable to find adequate work; and, his marriage was falling apart. All he and his wife had in their small apartment were two chairs and table and a crib. They slept on the floor. But still, all Louie could think about was making enough money to go to Japan to kill a man.
However, the rage was killing Louie. Every single night he had nightmares of his torture, and he dreamed of how he would kill ‘the Bird.’ One night, he dreamed he finally caught his old tormentor, and had him on the ground and was strangling him to death– only to awake and find himself choking his pregnant wife. She left him, and he was a broken man. His spirit had remained strong and unbroken by so much, but now his heart and spirit were breaking because of depression, anger, hatred, and the desire for revenge.
Louie’s wife moved back home for a time, and while she was there some friends invited them to go hear this new preacher, Billy Graham, who was holding a revival rally in a tent. Louie refused. His wife went and came back thrilled with what she heard. She said she even went down front after the sermon to give her life to Jesus. Louie thought she was an idiot, and again refused her pleas to go that night. She kept pleading and finally he agreed. But he said emphatically that when the preacher was done and wanted people to come to the front like she did, he would be heading out the back.
That night Billy Graham talked about Jesus, as he always did, and about how Jesus forgives us our sins, freeing us from guilt, and from eternal death, which is the penalty for our sins. Then, the sermon went on to describe how just as Jesus has forgiven us, we should forgive other people. Not only is this a command of God, but it is what is best for us, said the preacher, freeing us from the burden of anger and hate and the unending cycle of revenge which will destroy us. Louie knew he had much to forgive and much to be forgiven of, and he knew this was all for him, but he wasn’t liking it. He sat there fuming, and as soon as it was over, he headed for the back door. And then he stopped. Just then, he remembered a promise he made to God one night when he was on that life raft, adrift in the middle of the ocean. He had prayed, “Lord, if you save me, I will spend the rest of my life serving you.” God had saved him, but Louie had forgotten all about God. Louie turned around, and instead of storming out the back, he went to the front and committed his life to Christ. Here is how Louie describes his conversion:
I dropped to my knees and for the first time in my life truly humbled myself before the Lord. I asked him to forgive me for not having kept the promises I’d made during the war, and for my sinful life. I made no excuses. I did not rationalize. I did not blame. God had said, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” so I took him at his word, begged for his pardon, and asked Jesus to come into my life.
Right then and there a peace came over Louie Zamperini like he had never known before. And that night was the first night in five years that he was not bothered by flashbacks and nightmares of the war. (continued…)
Louie and Billy, 1950
Romans 10:13 — Every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.
John 14:27 — (Jesus said), “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
John 16:33 — (Jesus said), “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”