by Greg Laurie
I just finished the outstanding biography of Louis Zamperini written by Laura Hillenbrand. The title of the book is 'Unbroken.'
The son of Italian immigrants, Louis was born in 1917. Soon after his family moved from NYC to the city of Torrance, California, he started getting into trouble. He spoke no English and he was picked on, so he learned to defend himself.
He said in an interview, "I was beating the tar out of every one of them…But I was so good at it that I started relishing the idea of getting even. I was sort of addicted to it." He was smoking by age five, beating kids up, and stealing beer from bootleggers.
Running in the Olympics
His older brother, Pete, was his polar opposite. He was polite, got good grades, and received a scholarship to run track at USC. He saw this same potential in Louis and urged him to run.
At first Louis resisted, but he discovered he had a real knack for running, which ultimately resulted in him getting a scholarship at USC and running in the Olympics in Germany. They called him "The Torrance Tornado."
In the 5000-meter Olympic final, Louis finished eighth, but ran the last quarter mile in just 56 seconds. He was so fast, that Adolf Hitler himself insisted on meeting him. Louis said, "So I went over to see him. He reached down, shook my hand kind of flimsy-like and said, ‘Ah, the boy with the fast finish.' "
The Nazis were coming into power and soon World War 2 broke out. Louis joined the Air Force and became a B-24 Bombardier and cheated death many times, earning the nickname "Lucky Louis."
But one day, he wasn't so lucky…
Louis' plane, "the Green Hornet," was shot down over the Pacific and it crashed into the ocean, 800 miles south of Hawaii. Out of 11 men, only three survived.
They were now floating in the middle of 65 million square miles of water. They were soon surrounded by sharks, which bumped against their partially deflated life raft. They survived by killing albatross that landed on their raft, using them for bait.
The 20-Foot Great White Shark
One night, a 20-foot great white shark cruised by and they prayed for protection. Louis was not a Christian, but said prayers he had seen in movies.
Louis Zamperini was officially declared dead by the U.S. government. After 27 days at sea, they were spotted by an aircraft. They fired their flare gun in hopes of rescue, only to realize it was a Japanese aircraft, which then strafed them with bullets. The others huddled while Louis dove in the water, fighting off the sharks with his bare hands.
Despite all of this, things were still to get worse for Louis…
Altogether, Louis spent 47 days in the South Pacific before he was found and sent to a POW camp. There he experienced torture that is unthinkable, and one guard, who was nicknamed 'The Bird' was especially cruel to Louis. He knew Zamperini was an Olympic runner, so he was especially harsh—beating him daily and leaving him unconscious.
The war finally ended and Louis was a man risen from the dead. He married, but then his life began to unravel. Tormented by flashbacks of his torture from The Bird, he descended into a spiral of alcoholism. He dedicated his life to returning to Japan in order to find and kill The Bird.
Every night he dreamed of this cruel guard attacking him and would wake up in a cold sweat. One night Louis had a dream of choking The Bird to death and awoke to find his hands around the neck of his horrified and choking wife. It got so bad, his wife decided to divorce him.
The Evangelist from North Carolina
But someone invited her to go to a tent that had been set up for a visiting evangelist. It was 1949, and that evangelist's name was Billy Graham. Louis's wife accepted Christ that night and decided to not divorce Louis and pressed him to come hear Billy Graham speak.
Louis resisted but finally went. He bolted out when Billy gave the invitation, but returned another night, after more pressure, and wanted to leave when Billy again gave the invitation. Then Louis Zamperini came under the conviction of the Holy Spirit and remembered something he had said to God. When he was on the life raft, in the middle of the Pacific, he said, "God, spare my life through the war, and I'll seek You and serve You."
Louis kept thinking, "I came back from the war alive, and I never even thought about those prayers. I never tried to keep one prayer."
Forgiving The Bird
Louis went forward at Billy's invitation and gave his life to Jesus Christ. In an interview, he said, "I got off my knees and somehow I knew I was through getting drunk. I knew it. I also knew that I forgave all my guards including The Bird. I think proof of that is I had nightmares every night about The Bird since the war. I haven't had a nightmare since the night I made my decision for Christ—1949 till now!"
That is some kind of a miracle. The young boy, who grew up always wanting to get even, came full circle. He forgave all of his guards, including The Bird. He traveled to Japan, visiting many of those guards in prison, shared his testimony, and led a number of them to Christ.
He has spent the rest of his life telling others to forgive. Louis is now 94 and living in Los Angeles and they are making a movie about his life.
Source: Greg Laurie's Blog
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