Dave: Hi everyone. Today we’re talking about the book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. It’s the story of Louis Zamperini an Olympic caliber distance runner and U.S. airman, and how he survived being shot down in the Pacific, drifting at sea for weeks, and then encampment and torture at the hands of the Japanese. Not to mention coming back home and eventually managing to live a normal life after all of those experiences. It’s really an incredible story.
Nate: And honestly, his story leading up to the war was interesting. He started out as a wild young boy, eventually managing to harness that energy into long distance running. And he became so good that he became one of the best in the world. He actually made the 1936 Olympic team, and had big plans for the 1940 Olympics until the war broke out.
Dave: The running kept him out of trouble, and actually probably kept him out of jail, because like you said, he was an ornery kid. It gave him goals, and something to really focus on. But overall, the book is about Zamperini’s will to survive, which was just remarkable.
Nate: There were really two stories of survival. There was the story of survival on the raft, and then there was the story of surviving the Japanese prisoner of war camps. To survive just one of those would’ve been amazing, but he managed to make it through both.
Dave: It’s remarkable. Their ordeal on the Pacific Ocean set the record for most days survived on a raft at sea. They drifted forty seven days until they finally approached the Marshall Islands and were captured by a Japanese ship.
Nate: And they had virtually nothing to eat when they began their ordeal – a few candy bars, and rainwater they caught to drink. They managed to catch some fish and birds which they ate; otherwise there was no way they would have survived.
Dave: All of this while baking in the Pacific sun day after day and fending off sharks in a raft that was falling apart after being punctured by bullets from a Japanese plane that strafed them. It was truly amazing that they survived.
Nate: And then, once captured, he was beaten incessantly in the Japanese camps; with most of those beatings coming at the hands of the prison guard known to the prisoners as “The Bird”.
Dave: I keep thinking about how Zamperini had such an amazing will to live and survive, because no matter what The Bird did to him, he was determined he wasn’t going to give up. It was probably some of that orneriness he had as a kid, but no matter how much he was humiliated, he wasn’t going to give in. I really grew to admire him as I was reading the book.
Nate: I can never get over, when I’m reading something like this, or when I’m learning about the Nazi Concentration Camps, how utterly inhumane and sadistic people can be. And what’s really disturbing is that nothing in The Bird’s past pointed to him becoming a sociopath who loved to kill and torture people. It seemed like it was the power that was handed to him that made him into who he was.
Dave: Absolutely. You know, we’ve talked about two stories of survival, aboard the raft, and at the Japanese camps, but there really is a third, and that’s the story of him surviving the scars of the war once he got home.
Nate: It’s a side of war people often don’t think about, but that many soldiers experience, although most don’t experience the kind of things Zamperini did.
Dave: How could anyone possibly deal with the experiences he had? Who could you talk to about it? No one would have any understanding of what you’d been through, and how you feel now because of it. So how his life turned once he got home was sort of predictable, as he became an alcoholic in an attempt to cope and forget.
Nate: And just when things were at their worst, his wife took him to see Billy Graham and it completely changed his life.
Dave: He’d managed to physically stay alive on the Pacific and in the camps, but what happened to him during the war could have also killed him in a whole different way; once again he found a way to survive, and has lived quite a life ever since. In many ways it’s really a life affirming book.
Nate: I agree. There are a lot of things you have to get through when you’re reading it, in terms of torture, and graphic descriptions of violence. It certainly isn’t sugar coated.
Dave: And to truly appreciate his story it can’t be.
Nate: Right. And you get an understanding of how long his torture went on, because it goes on for quite awhile in the book. But if you can get through that and you see what he went through, and where he is now, it’s definitely a life affirming story.
Dave: Absolutely. If you can handle the violence, I think it would appeal to just about anyone.